The Triune God of the Bible
(please note that this is a WORK IN PROGRESS, portions of which have not yet been completed.)
I. Introduction: The Importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity
Believing in the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity is a matter of no small importance. To worship a false god is idolatry (Exodus 20:1-3), and all “idolaters . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 21:8). God must be worshipped in truth (John 4:24), but this is impossible if we have a false view of His nature. Holding improper ideas of God is in itself a great sin, and a cause of further evils (Exodus 20:4-6; Romans 1:18-25). One who believes in a false god or gods continually breaks the greatest of all commandments (Mark 12:29). Those who deny the Deity of the Father (John 17:3), of the Son (John 8:24), or of the Spirit (Acts 19:2) are lost. Scripture states that those with an improper view of the Person and saving work of the Son as God and man are unsaved (2 John 9) antichrists (1 John 2:22-23). Believing in the Trinity, then, is essential to salvation. Furthermore, Scripture commands, “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). Love with the heart and the soul will lead the people of God to a longing to know their Lord ever the better, and love for Him with the mind will lead them to wish to understand all they can about Him. Those who have been brought into fellowship with Jehovah already “know the Lord” (Hebrews 8:11), and having once tasted that the Lord is gracious, they wish for ever-greater depths of intellectual and relational knowledge of Him. Furthermore, recognizing that their heavenly Father is seeking for worshippers (John 4:23), God’s own recognize the value of deep knowledge of Trinitarian teaching for the purpose of communicating the knowledge of God to the lost world (Mark 16:15; Psalm 67). Thus, the study of the doctrine of the Trinity is of immense value both for those who deny the doctrine, and are thus in need of faith in that one God who alone can deliver them from sin and eternal death, and for all those who have already been redeemed by Him.
This study presupposes the Biblical truths that every word of Scripture was infallibly given by inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16) and perfectly preserved in the traditional original language texts (Psalm 12:6-7). This Bible, examined according to literal, grammatical-historical interpretation, is its sole authority (2 Timothy 3:17). Additional alleged revelation, common in many anti-Trinitarian religious systems, whether in the form of extra holy books, supposedly infallible or uniquely authoritative people or organizations, or biased translations of Scripture, are rejected (Revelation 22:18-19; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 13:8). These presuppositions are ably defended elsewhere—here they will not be addressed further.
II. The Definition of the Doctrine of the Trinity
It is very valuable in any sort of debate or discussion for all parties involved to know exactly what it is they are talking about. This is all the more necessary in a discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity, as its opponents have, with great frequency, evidenced either ignorance of the doctrine they are opposing or intentional misrepresentation of the Trinitarian position, and, in these days of apostasy and spiritual weakness in Christiandom, many even of the people of God are less able to give the accurate, orthodox doctrine as confessed for nearly two thousand years. A short definition of the triune nature of the Godhead would be, “One God in essence who eternally exists in three distinct Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” A somewhat larger definition from a standard confession of faith of Christian churches declares that “The Lord our God is but one only living and true God . . . in this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word (or Son), and the Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him.” An ancient classical definition, which deals both with the nature of the relations of the three in the Triune God and with the incarnation of the Son, the change that took place when He became man, states:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in essence with the Father; by him all things were made.
For us men, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary, and was made man. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; from thence he will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; His kingdom will have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, who is Lord and God, the giver of life, both one in essence with and proceeding from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke through the prophets. Amen.
An ancient creed that deals specifically with the Person of the Son and His assumption of a human nature after the incarnation, in what is known as the hypostatic union, states:
We unanimously teach one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, complete as to his Godhead, and complete as to his manhood; truly God, and truly man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; consubstantial with the Father as to his Godhead, and consubstantial also with us as to his manhood; like unto us in all things, yet without sin; as to his Godhead begotten of the Father before all worlds, but as to his manhood, in these last days born, for us men and for our salvation, of the virgin Mary, one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, known in two natures, without confusion, without conversion, without severance, and without division; the distinction of the natures being in no wise abolished by their union, but the peculiarity of each nature being maintained, and both concurring in one person and hupostasis. We confess not a Son divided and sundered into two persons, but one and the same Son, and Only-begotten, and God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, even as the prophets had before proclaimed concerning him, and he himself hath taught us.
A somewhat more lengthy ancient Trinitarian definition is:
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Christian faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. But this is the Christian faith: That we worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity; Neither confounding the persons; nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father: another of the Son: another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father is uncreated: the Son is uncreated: the Holy Ghost is uncreated. The Father is immeasurable: the Son is immeasurable: the Holy Ghost is immeasurable. The Father is eternal: the Son eternal: the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet there are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated: nor three immeasurable: but one uncreated, and one immeasurable. So likewise the Father is Almighty: the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty, and yet there are not three Almighties: but one Almighty. So the Father is God: the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet there are not three Gods; but one God. So the Father is Lord: the Son Lord: and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the Christian religion to say, there are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created; nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone: not made; nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son: not made; neither created; nor begotten; but proceeding. Thus there is one Father, not three Fathers: one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after another: none is greater or less than another. But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together, and co-equal. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly concerning the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the true faith is, that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world; perfect God and perfect man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood; who, although he be God and man: yet he is not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the manhood into God; one altogether; not by confusion of substance: but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and man is one Christ, who suffered for our salvation, descended into the grave, and rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father: from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. This is the Christian faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.
The definitions given above set forth the classical Trinitarian faith believed and confessed by God’s people for many centuries. Those who believe in the Triune God of the Bible should meditate upon these carefully worded and thought out definitions. They have stood the test of time and the opposition of unbelief in many forms. The widespread and persistent misunderstanding of the Trinity by its supposedly Christian opponents also makes one wish that they also would carefully study these definitions, and, if they still foolishly wished to set themselves against the Scriptural doctrine set forth in them, would at least argue against the Trinity instead of against caricatures and misrepresentations of the doctrine accepted by no one besides anti-Trinitarians.
Excursus #1: The Hypostatic Union
The hypostatic union refers to the extremely important fact of the union of the Divine and human natures in Christ. Charles L. Feinberg (“The Hypostatic Union,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 92:368 (Oct 1935), pgs. 412-426) explains that when “we have postulated the two natures in Christ, we are not by so much attributing to Him a dual personality. We never read in the Word that one nature in Christ speaks to the other or is distinguished from it as a distinct hypostasis. Nowhere in the Scriptures does the Son of God address the Son of man or vice versa (cf. Rom 1:2–5; 9:5; 1 John 1:1–3; John 1:1–14). ‘The human and the Divine nature exist in the person of the Redeemer by no means only outwardly together, or parallel to each other, but so intimately united that this personality is as little merely human as exclusively Divine, but is and remains to all eternity, Divine-human.’ So real is this union that in Scripture human attributes are ascribed to Him when He is designated by a divine title, and divine attributes when addressed by a human title (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 2:8; Col 1:13, 14; John 3:13; Rom 9:5; Rev 5:12).
Another feature to be kept in mind with regard to the hypostatic union is the fact that the divine nature was always hypostasized. The preincarnate Logos ever existed as a personality, the Second Person of the Trinity. The Logos was never enhypostatic [that is, without personality]. . . .
When the two natures united in Christ and the human nature received its personality from that of the Logos, this does not imply that the natures became somehow confused or commingled. Indeed, the natures maintain and retain their distinctness throughout together with their properties. . . . The two natures do not unite to form a theanthropic nature, but a theanthropic Person . . . what the Scriptures seek to convey is that the properties of both the human nature and divine nature are communicated to the theanthropic Person constituted of them.
Just a word need be said now concerning the consciousness of Christ. Some say He had a human consciousness; some hold a divine consciousness; others a divine-human consciousness. Christ had two forms of consciousness and experience: one in the realm of the human and one in the realm of the divine. But He had only one self-consciousness. He spoke of Himself with the first personal pronoun, was spoken to with the second personal pronoun, and spoken about with the third personal pronoun.
An error to be guarded against in considering this subject is that which would say the divine nature united with a human person. Because the human nature united with a divine Person when it united with a divine nature, does not warrant us in drawing a parallel for the human nature. . . . [T]he human nature before the union was enhypostatic, and have also called attention in our introduction to the distinction between nature and person. The Logos did not take up into His consciousness the ‘whole human nature both distributed and undistributed, individualized, and unindividualized, but only a transmitted fractional part of the undistributed remainder of it, as this existed in the Virgin Mary.’ If the preincarnate Logos had united with a human person, there would have been another person added to the trinity which would have sensibly altered its constituency. . . .
[T]he hypostatic union is eternal. Scripture reveals nowhere that this union may sometime be dissolved. On the contrary, we read: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” He is “over all, God blessed for ever.” This union did not cease for a moment while He was on earth. Now in heaven the glorified God-man continues unchangeably. Throughout all eternity it shall be the Man Christ Jesus.”
Feinberg also clarifies that the “union known as the hypostatic union is not analogous to any within the realm of human experience. Many attempts have been made, with recognition of their insufficiency and inadequacy to be sure, to liken it to the union in man of soul and body, or the union of iron and heat to get molten ore. When we speak of the hypostatic union, it is not meant to convey the idea of an indwelling of deity comparable to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers. Nor are the two natures bound together by the moral tie of friendship or sympathy. The manner of the union is confessedly inscrutable.
But there are clear features of this truth yet to be dealt with. The question arises early in one’s thinking on the subject as to which nature forms the basis of the divine-human personality. Did the humanity of Christ take on or assume deity or was the reverse condition true? . . . We believe the truth of the matter to be that the divine nature in Christ formed the basis of His personality. The human nature in Christ could not have been the foundation of His personality, because before the union with the divine nature it was enhypostatic, without individuation. The human nature in Christ was never personalized until the miraculous conception when it was joined to the divine nature, the Logos. If the human nature had been the base of His Person He would be a man-God, not God-man, anthropotheistic, not theanthropic. Shedd notes several other reasons in favor of this position. First, the divine nature must have been the primary one, because the theanthropic personality was not destroyed when Christ died. Second, Christ’s acts of power, as well as His knowledge, were regulated by the divine nature. If the Logos determined Christ was powerful and could not be apprehended; if the Logos chose Christ could be arrested, scourged, and crucified. If the Logos elected that Christ knew certain matters, He knew them, otherwise the reverse was true. The Logos always knew the hour of the Second Advent, but He did not care to vouchsafe this knowledge to the human consciousness of Jesus Christ. Third, Christ’s immutability is another proof of this contention. The Word states that “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Heb 13:8).
Although the divine nature formed the starting point of the personality of Christ, this does not mean that His human nature was any the less real or complete. In Jesus Christ true deity and true humanity were consciously and actually present in the fullest sense of the word. All that could be predicated of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit as to deity could with equal justification be said of Christ. Though humbled, He was ever and always God. In fact, He could not have humbled Himself in the manner that He did, had He not been truly God. But at the same time Christ was every whit a man. All that can be attributed to unfallen humanity was true of Christ. He was without sin, but sin is not an essential feature of true humanity, for Adam was without sin in his innocent state. . . .
What are the benefits of this union? First of all, the hypostatic union gave the world an impeccable Person. This predicates of Christ, mark you, not only anamartesia, but impeccability. It is not just a matter of posse non peccare, but of non posse peccare. It is not enough to say Christ did not sin; it must be declared unequivocably that He could not sin. . . .
A second consequence of the hypostatic union was that the God-man revealed the Father. When men wanted to see God, Christ so manifested Him that He could say: “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Never before nor since has God been so clearly revealed to men. But if Christ was the revealer of deity as God-man, He was likewise the revealer of true humanity. He alone of all men that ever walked the earth was utterly dependent upon God. God was in all His thoughts. In all things He pleased not Himself but the Father. He solely kept the whole law. He displayed to men what true humanity is. . . .
Yet another benefit of the union is that Christ can be a sacrifice for sin. This is well typified by the Kinsman-Redeemer who must meet certain qualifications. He must be a near kinsman; he must be able to redeem; he must be willing to redeem; he must be free from the difficulty himself. Christ answered to this description by becoming man, thus identifying Himself with the human race. The ultimate sacrifice for sin had to be a man, not bulls and goats, because man had sinned in the body here on earth and deserved death as the legitimate wages of sin. Therefore, Christ was a man. But to give this sacrifice its ineffably infinite value, in order to suffice as a propitiation for the sins of the whole world, He had to be God. The true sacrifice for sin had to be a God-man; this is provided for by the hypostatic union.
A further consequence of the union was that it furnished for redeemed humanity a faithful High-Priest. As a prophet speaks for God to men, so a priest speaks for men to God. In dying for sinful man Christ fulfilled only part of His high-priestly office. It involves, furthermore, intercession and advocacy. These phases of ministry are in behalf of believers only. The Lord Jesus as God-man intercedes for His own that they may be kept from the evil one while they are in the world, though not of it. He advocates for His own after they have sinned. In order to intercede or advocate He must be God to know fully God’s requirements of man and how to meet them, and He must be fully man to understand man’s need and be touched by the feeling of man’s infirmities. For this the hypostatic union was indispensable. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Job’s plaintive cry for a Daysman who can lay hold of both God for man and man for God has been answered and gloriously so.
Finally, by the hypostatic union the Logos became the head of a new race, the new creation. Romans 5:12–21 shows clearly that as death, condemnation, and judgment came from the first Adam to the fallen race, so from the Last Adam accrue to believers the new creation in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:10), life, righteousness, and justification. The Logos had to become man to undo (and “much more”) what the first man had wrought. He had to be God to grant and make possible such heavenly birth, privileges, and blessings (Eph 1:3) to those who willingly follow Him by faith (cf. 1 Cor 15:45; Eph 1:22; John 15:5; 2 Cor 5:17).”
Excursus #2: More Detailed Explanations and Details on Classical Trinitarianism
Philip Schaff provides further helpful thoughts on the classical doctrine of the Trinity:
“There is only one divine essence or substance (ousia, substantia, essentia, phusis, natura). Father, Son, and Spirit are one in essence, or consubstantial (homoousioi). They are in one another, inseparable, and cannot be conceived without each other. In this point the [classic] doctrine is thoroughly monotheistic . . . in distinction from tritheism, which is but a new form of the polytheism of the pagans.
The terms essence (ousia) and nature (phusis) . . . denote . . . against Arianism the strict divinity and essential equality of the Son and Holy Ghost with the Father. . . . [I]n the divine Trinity consubstantiality denotes not only sameness of kind, but at the same time numerical unity; not merely the unum in specie, but also the unum in numero. The, three persons are related to the divine substance not as three individuals to their species, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or Peter, John, and Paul, to human nature; they are only one God. The divine substance is absolutely indivisible by reason of its simplicity, and absolutely inextensible and untransferable by reason of its infinity; whereas a corporeal substance can be divided, and the human nature can be multiplied by generation. Three divine substances would limit and exclude each other, and therefore could not be infinite or absolute. The whole fulness of the one undivided essence of God, with all its attributes, is in all the persons of the Trinity, though in each in his own way: in the Father as original principle, in the Son by eternal generation, in the Spirit by, eternal procession. The church teaches not one divine essence and three persons, but one essence in three persons. Father, Son, and Spirit cannot be conceived as three separate individuals, but are in one another, and form a solidaric unity. . . . In this one divine essence there are three persons or, to use a better term, hypostases, that is, three different modes of subsistence of the one same undivided and indivisible whole, which in the Scriptures are called the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. These distinctions are not merely different attributes, powers, or activities of the Godhead, still less merely subjective aspects under which it presents itself to the human mind; but each person expresses the whole fulness of the divine being with all its attributes, and the three persons stand in a relation of mutual knowledge and love. . . . Here the orthodox doctrine forsook Sabellianism or modalism, which, it is true, made Father, Son, and Spirit strictly coordinate, but only as different denominations and forms of manifestation of the one God.
But, on the other hand, as we have already intimated, the term person must not be taken here in the sense current among men, as if the three persons were three different individuals, or three self-conscious and separately acting beings. The trinitarian idea of personality lies midway between that of a mere form of manifestation, or a personation, which would lead to Sabellianism, and the idea of an independent, limited human personality, which would result in tritheism. In other words, it avoids the monoousian or [modalistic] trinity of a threefold conception and aspect of one and the same being, and the triousian or tritheistic trinity of three distinct and separate beings. In each person there is the same inseparable divine substance, united with the individual property and relation which distinguishes that person from the others. The word person is in reality only a make-shift, in the absence of a more adequate term. Our idea of God is more true and deep than our terminology, and the essence and character of God far transcends our highest ideas. . . .
Each divine person has his property, as it were a characteristic individuality, expressed by the Greek word idiotes, and the Latin proprietas. This is not to be confounded with attribute; for the divine attributes, eternity, omnipresence, omnipotence, wisdom, holiness, love, etc., are inherent in the divine essence, and are the common possession of all the divine hypostases. The idiotes, on the contrary, is a peculiarity of the hypostasis, and therefore cannot be communicated or transferred from one to another.
To the first person fatherhood, or the being unbegotten (agennesia, paternitas), is ascribed as his property; to the second, sonship, or the being begotten (gennesia, genesis, generatio filiatio), to the Holy Ghost, procession (ekporeusis, procesio; also ekpempsis, missio). In other words: The Father is unbegotten, but begetting; the Son is uncreated, but begotten; the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father . . . and . . . also from the Son. But these distinctions relate, as we have said, only to the hypostases, and have no force with respect to the divine essence which is the same in all, and neither begets nor is begotten, nor proceeds, nor is sent.
The divine persons are in one another, mutually interpenetrate, and form a perpetual intercommunication and motion within the divine essence; as the Lord says: “I am in the Father, and the Father in me;” and “the Father . . . dwelleth in me” [John 14:10-11; cf. John 10:38.]. This perfect indwelling and vital communion was afterwards designated (by John of Damascus and the scholastics) by such terms as enuparxis, perichoresis, inexistentia, immanentia, inhabitatio, circulatio, permeatio, intercommunio, circumincessio, [and in English is commonly referred to as the doctrine of coinherence].
The [classical] doctrine . . . contains, in substance, a distinction between two trinities: an immanent [or ontological] trinity of constitution (ad intra, tropos uparxeos), which existed from eternity, and an economic trinity of manifestation (ad extra, tropos apokalupseos) . . . for the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit are, according to the doctrine, an eternal process. The . . . [immanent] trinity of revelation [is seen] in the threefold progressive work of the creation, the redemption, and the preservation of the world, [and points] back thence to a trinity of being; for God has revealed himself as he is, and there can be no contradiction between his nature and his works. The eternal pre-existence of the Son and the Spirit is the background of the historical revelation by which they work our salvation” (History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff, vol. 3, 9:130).
The Trinitarian doctrine of coinherence is “not merely a linking or intercommunication of the distinctive properties of the three divine Persons but a complete mutual indwelling in which each Person, while remaining what he is by himself as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, is wholly in the others as the others are wholly in him” (Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, pg 305). Coinherence describes “the intimate mutual union of the persons . . . so as to designate thus that union by which the divine persons embrace each other and permeate (if it is right to say so) each other. So that although always remaining distinct, yet they are never separated from each other, but always coexist; wherever one is, there the other also really is” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Francis Turretin (trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr.), vol. 1, Topic 3, Question 23:13, pg. 257. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992 (orig. pub. 1696)].
Excursus #3: Concerning the Unity and Diversity of the Works of the Persons of the Undivided Trinity
Concerning the classical view of the external works of the Persons of the Trinity (that is, all the works of God that relate to the created order, versus the internal and eternal actings within the Godhead itself whereby the Father begets the Son and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son), John Owen well states the classical view:
“It is a saying generally admitted, that Opera Trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa [the extrenal works of the Trinity are indivisible]. There is no such division in the external operations of God that any one of them should be the act of one person, without the concurrence of the others; and the reason of it is, because the nature of God, which is the principle of all divine operations, is one and the same, undivided in them all. Whereas, therefore, they are the effects of divine power, and that power is essentially the same in each person, the works themselves belong equally unto them: as, if it were possible that three men might see by the same eye, the act of seeing would be but one, and it would be equally the act of all three. . . . [Nonetheless] . . . there is such a distinction in [the] operations [of the three Persons], that one divine act may produce a peculiar respect and relation unto one person, and not unto another; as the assumption of the human nature did to the Son, for he only was incarnate. . . .
[S]ome things must be premised concerning the operation of the Godhead in general, and the manner thereof; and they are such as are needful to guide us in many passages of the Scripture, and to direct us aright[.] . . .
1.) [A]ll divine operations are usually ascribed unto God absolutely. So it is said God made all things; and so of all other works, whether in nature or in grace. And the reason hereof is, because the several persons are undivided in their operations, acting all by the same will, the same wisdom, the same power. Every person, therefore, is the author of every work of God, because each person is god, and the divine nature is the same undivided principle of all divine operations; and this ariseth from the unity of the persons in the same essence. But as to the manner of subsistence therein, there is distinction, relation, and order between and among them; and hence there is no divine work but is distinctly assigned unto each person, and eminently unto one. So is it in the works of the old creation, and so in the new, and in all particulars of them. Thus, the creation of the world is distinctly ascribed to the Father as his work, Acts 4:24; and to the Son as his, John 1:3; and also to the Holy Spirit, Job 33:4; but by way of eminence to the Father, and absolutely to god, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The reason, therefore, why the works of God are thus distinctly ascribed unto each person is because, in the undivided operation of the divine nature, each person doth the same work in the order of their subsistence; not one as the instrument of the other, or merely employed by the other, but as one common principle of authority, wisdom, love, and power. How come they, then, eminently to be assigned one to one person, another to another? As unto the Father are assigned opera naturae, the works of nature, or the old creation; to the Son, opera gratiae procuratae, all divine operations that belong unto the recovery of mankind by grace; and unto the Spirit, opera gratiae applicatcae, the works of God whereby grace is made effectual unto us. And this is done[:]
1.) When any especial impression is made of the especial property of any person on any work; thaen is that work assigned peculiarly to that person. So there is of the power and authority of the Father on the old creation, and of the grace and wisdom of the Son on the new.
2.) Where there is a peculiar condescension of any person unto a work, wherein the others have no concurrence but by approbation and consent.
Such was the susception of the human nature by the Son, and all that he did therein; and such was the condescension of the Holy Ghost also unto his office, which entitles him peculiarly and by way of eminence unto his own immediate works.
2.) Whereas the order of operation among the distinct persons depends on the order of their subsistence in the blessed Trinity, in every great work of God, the concluding, completing, perfecting acts are ascribed unto the Holy Ghost. . . . The beginning of divine operations is assigned unto the Father, as he is fons et origo Deitatis,—“the fountain of the Deity itself:” “Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things,” Romans 11:36. The subsisting, establishing, and “upholding of all things,” is ascribed unto the Son: “He is before all things, and by him all things consist,” Colossians 1:17. As he made all things with the Father, so he gives them a consistency, a permanency, in a peculiar manner, as he is the power and wisdom of the Father. He “upholdeth all things by the word of his power,” Hebrews 1:3. And the finishing and perfecting of all these works is ascribed to the Holy Spirit[.] . . . I say not this as though one person succeeded unto another in their operation, or as though where one ceased and gave over a work, the other took it up and carried it on; for every divine work, and every part of every divine work, is the work of God, that is, of the whole Trinity, inseperably and undividedly: but on those divine works which outwardly are of God there is an especial impression of the order of the operation of each person, with respect unto their natural and necessary subsistence, as also with regard unto their internal characteristical properties, whereby we are distinctly taught to know them and adore them. And the due consideration of this order of things will direct us in the right understanding of the proposals that are made unto our faith concerning God in his works and word. . . .
That these things may be rightly understood and apprehended, we must consider a twofold operation of God as three in one. The first hereof is absolute in all divine works whatever; the other respects the economy of the operations of God in our salvation. In those of the first sort, both the working and the work do in common and undividedly belong unto and proceed from each person. And the reason hereof is, because they are all effects of the essential properties of the same divine nature, which is in them all, or rather, which is the one nature of them all. But yet as they have one nature, so there is an order of subsistence in that nature, and the distinct persons work in the order of their subsistence: John 5:19, 20, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.’ The Father doth not first work in order of time, and then the Son, seeing of it, work another work like unto it; but the Son doth the same work that the Father doth. This is absolutely necessary, because of their union in nature. But yet in the order of their subsistence, the person of the Father is the original of all divine works, in the principle and beginning of them, and that in order of nature antecedently unto the operation of the Son. Hence he is said to ‘see’ what the Father doth; which, according unto [the] rule in the exposition of such expressions, when ascribed unto the divine nature, is the sign and evidence, and not the means, of his knowledge. He sees what the Father doth, as he is his eternal Wisdom. The like must be said of the Holy Spirit, with respect both unto the Father and Son. And this order of operation in the Holy Trinity is not voluntary, but natural and necessary from the one essence and distinct subsistences thereof. Secondly, There are those operations which, with respect unto our salvation, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do graciously condescend unto, which are those treated of in this place. Now, though the designing of this work was absolutely voluntary, yet, upon a supposition thereof, the order of its accomplishment was made necessary from the order of the subsistence of the distinct persons in the Deity; and that is here declared. Thus,
1.) The things to be declared unto us and bestowed on us are originally the Father’s things. He is the peculiar fountain of them all. His love, his grace, his wisdom, his goodness, his counsel, his will, are their supreme cause and spring. Hence are they said to be the ‘things that the Father hath’ [John 16:15].
2.) They are made the things of the Son, — that is, they are given and granted in and unto his disposal, — on the account of his mediation; for thereby they were to be prepared for us and given out unto us, to the glory of God. Answerable hereunto, as the Lord Christ is mediator, all the things of grace are originally the Father’s, and then given unto him.
3.) They are actually communicated unto us by the Holy Spirit: ‘Therefore said I, he [the Holy Spirit] shall take of mine and shall show it unto you’ [John 16:15]. He doth not communicate them unto us immediately from the Father. We do not so receive any grace from God, — that is, the Father; nor do we so make any return of praise or obedience unto God. We have nothing to do with the person of the Father immediately. It is the Son alone by whom we have an access unto him, and by the Son alone that he gives out of his grace and bounty unto us. He that hath not the Son hath not the Father. With him, as the great treasurer of heavenly things, are all grace and mercy intrusted. The Holy Spirit, therefore, shows them unto us, works them in us, bestows them on us, as they are the fruits of the mediation of Christ, and not merely as effects of the divine love and bounty of the Father; and this is required from the order of subsistence before mentioned. Thus the Holy Spirit supplies the bodily absence of Jesus Christ, and effects what he hath to do and accomplish towards his [people] in the world; so that whatever is done by him, it is the same as if it were wrought immediately by the Lord Christ himself in his own person, whereby all his holy promises are fully accomplished towards them that believe.
And this instructs us in the way and manner of that communion which we have with God by the gospel; for herein the life, power, and freedom of our evangelical state do consist, and an acquaintance herewith gives us our translation “out of darkness into the marvelous light of God” [1 Peter 2:9]. The person of the Father, in his wisdom, will, and love, is the original of all grace and glory. But nothing hereof is communicated immediately unto us from him. It is from the Son, whom he loves, and hath given all things into his hand. He hath made way for the communication of these things unto us, unto the glory of God; and he doth it immediately by the Spirit, as hath been declared. Hereby are all our returns unto God to be regulated. The Father, who is the original of all grace and glory, is ultimately intended by us in our faith, thankfulness, and obedience; yet not so but that the Son and Spirit are considered as one God with him. But we cannot address ourselves with any of them immediately unto him. “There is no going to the Father,” saith Christ, “but by me,” John 14:6. “By him we believe in God,” 1 Peter 1:21. But yet neither can we do so unless we are enabled thereunto by the Spirit, the author in us of faith, prayer, praise, obedience, and whatever our souls tend unto God by. As the descending of God towards us in love and grace issues or ends in the work of the Spirit in us and on us, so all our ascending towards him begins therein; and as the first instance of the proceeding of grace and love towards us from the Father is in and by the Son, so the first step that we take towards God, even the Father, is in and by the Son. And these things ought to be explicitly attended unto by us, if we intend our faith, and love, and duties of obedience should be evangelical.” (pg. 195, 118-120, 236-238, Pneumatologia: A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, John Owen. elec. acc. Christian Library Series vol. 9, John Owen Collection. Rio, WI: AGES Digital Software, 2005. Books 2:3; 1:4; 2:5.)
III. Anti-Trinitarian Positions on the Nature of God
Opposition to the Trinity among those who claim to derive their doctrine from the Bible falls generally into two major categories: unitarianism and modalism. While trinitarianism affirms that God is one essence and three Persons, unitarianism denies the unity of essence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while modalism denies the trinity of Persons in the Godhead.
The fundamental affirmation of Unitarians is that Jesus Christ is not really God. Groups that deny the Biblical doctrine of the unique and full Deity of Christ today include modern skeptics and atheists, theological liberals in a very wide array of denominations, and modern cults and false religions such as Christadelphianism, Christian Science, the Unitarian-Universalist Church, Swedenborgianism, the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, the Unity School of Christianity, and the Way International of Victor Paul Wierwille. All religions that fall outside of Christiandom also reject the Lord Jesus’ unique Deity, including Islam, modern Judaism, the various forms of Buddhism and Hinduism, Sikhism, other Eastern religions, Masonry, and Scientology. Many modern Unitarians do not take the Bible seriously as the infallible Word of God, and therefore assert without fear that the Lord Jesus was simply either a normal man of some kind, although likely a very good one, or a prophet from God, or special in some other way, but only one that pertains to mankind. However, since nobody who believes the Scriptures are the perfect truth of God could seriously read them and conclude that Jesus is only a man, Unitarians that affirm a faith in an infallible Bible almost always assign the Lord Jesus a semi-divine status, although with a variety of twists. They often state that the Father is fully God, while the Son is a god, a sort of lesser divine being. They believe concerning the Son that “there was a time when he was not; and: he was not before he was made; and: he was made out of nothing, or out of another substance or thing,” or that “the Son of God is created, or changeable, or alterable.” Having denied the genuine Deity of the Son, modern Bible-supporting Unitarians generally proceed to allege that the Holy Spirit is neither God nor a personal Being, but an impersonal force. The most prominent and zealous representative of contemporary Bible-affirming Unitarianism is the Watchtower Society, otherwise known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. This religion believes that the Father only is Jehovah, the Almighty and eternal God. The Son is the first and most important of created beings and a god, and the Spirit is the impersonal “active force” of the Father. A rejection of the Trinitarian affirmation that the Father, Son, and Spirit are one in essence unites all Unitarian groups.
Unitarians are lost. Through their affirmation that the Son of God is not the Almighty Creator, but a created being, they are guilty of idolatry and blasphemy. By opposing His character as one who possesses a fully Divine nature (and often by rejecting His full humanity as well), they also destroy the work of redemption; the Lord Jesus cannot fully unite God and man for He does not combine both genuine humanity and Deity in His Person. No real knowledge of the Father through the Son by the Spirit is possible. The sufficiency of His cross-work to redeem man is also destroyed by a rejection of His Divinity. They oppose the Father and the Holy Spirit as well; the Father is no longer eternally Father, for there was (allegedly) a time before the Son existed, and no one can be a Father without a Son. They would strip God the Spirit of His Deity, claiming that He is either just a force similar to gravity, or (following Arius) they must make the Spirit of God a created Being. Their god is a false god, one that cannot save them. As with all idolators, they worship the devil (Deuteronomy 32:17; 1 Corinthians 10:20).
Modalism denies the trinity of Persons in the one God. It is also called Sabellianism (on account of a prominent early supporter, Sabellius), Patripassianism (the Father, Pater, suffered, passio, and died on the cross), Oneness theology (on account of its affirmation of only one Person in God), “Jesus only” theology (since a significant segment of modalists baptize using the name of Jesus alone, instead of baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), or Monarchianism (emphasizing the monarchia, the “single principle” or absolute unity of the Godhead). While the Trinitarian maintains that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are eternal, ontological and personal distinctions, the modalist believes Father, Son, and Spirit are designations for the same Person, emphasizing only different modes, manifestations, or functions of the one, solitary Person of God. They deny that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three essential and eternal distinctions in the one God. Modalism takes somewhat different forms; its adherents might affirm that the terms Father, Son, and Spirit refer to different ways that God acts or different roles God takes in the world, perhaps to His work as Creator, Savior, and Sanctifier. They might say that God was Father in the Old Testament, and then became the Son during the earthly life of Christ, and after the Lord Jesus’ resurrection and ascension God became the Holy Spirit. They might, on the other hand, state that these three modes of God’s acting as Father, Son and Spirit are simultaneous, rather than successive. Modalists often view the Father, Son, and Spirit as different relationships the solitary Person of God has with mankind; they are viewed as titles, offices, or economic roles similar to Shepherd, King, Holy One, or Rock. The one Person of God might be termed “Jesus” or the “Father.” Modern modalistic groups include the followers of William Branham and the followers of Witness Lee in the Local Church cult. The most prominent contemporary advocate of modalism is the Oneness Pentecostal, Apostolic Pentecostal, or “Jesus only” movement, including the United Pentecostal Church, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, the Bible Way Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, the United Church of Jesus Christ, the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, and the Pentecostal Churches of Apostolic Faith. Oneness Pentecostalism today holds that Jesus is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Some modern modalists believe that the word “Father” in the Bible speaks of the Divine nature of Jesus, while the term “Son” refers to the human nature of the unipersonal God. The fundamental heresy of all modalists is the rejection of the three eternal, personal distinctions in the one being of God.
The god of modalism is not the God of the Bible; the affirmation that the Father, Son, and Spirit are the same person is a radically different view of God than the Scriptural, Trinitarian position. Modalist attempts to explain the numerous conversations between the Father and the Son in the Bible as the human and Divine natures of the Lord Jesus communicating (although a nature, unlike a person, has no consciousness and is in itself unable to communicate) make the Savior schizophrenic. The work of Christ on the cross is destroyed, for the Father cannot lay the sins of the world on His Son. By stripping the Persons of the Trinity of personal identity and distinct subsistence, and reducing them to mere titles, names, or offices, modalists deny the existence of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Their god is a false god, one that cannot save. As with all idolators, modalists worship the devil (Deuteronomy 32:17; 1 Corinthians 10:20).
Other anti-Trinitarian positions by groups that claim to believe in the Bible exist. For example, those who follow the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong (the United Church of God, Global Church of God, Associated Church of God, etc.) believe that God is a family currently numbering two Persons, the Father and the Son, while the Holy Spirit is impersonal, being simply God’s mind, power, life and love; in the future all faithful Armstrongites will join the divine family and become God themselves, so that God will consist of billions of Persons instead of the current two. Mormonism affirms that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three different gods out of an innumerable multitude of others; all the gods are people who, at one time, were faithful Mormons on planets somewhere in the universe, and all the people currently on the earth are the product of sexual union between a father god and a mother god. Since Scripture is clearly utterly contrary to such revolting notions (Genesis 3:5; Isaiah 44:6, 8; 45:6, etc.), it is not surprising that both groups claim to have additional revelations that add to and effectively supplant the Bible—Mormonism adds the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, as well as the supposedly inspired teachings of whoever is its currently living “prophet,” while Armstrongism adds the allegedly inspired writings of Herbert W. Armstrong. Unitarianism and modalism are the only alternatives to Trinitarianism that have any even apparent plausibility for those committed to the sole authority of the Bible.
IV. Biblical Proof for the Doctrine of the Trinity
(This portion has not yet been written—please see the work Are You Worshipping Jehovah? at http://sites.google.com/site/faithalonesaves/salvation for some of the many positive Biblical proofs for the Trinity).
I.) There is only one God
II.) The Father is God
III.) The Son is God
IV.) The Holy Spirit is God
V.) Interpersonal relations in the Godhead
VI. Objections to the Doctrine of the Trinity
A. Introductory Considerations
Both Unitarians and modalists set forth a number of arguments for their respective theological positions. Objections common to both heresies will be dealt with first. Then uniquely Unitarian objections will be examined. Uniquely modalistic objections will be examined last.
Many heretical objections to Trinitarianism are invalidated simply by holding to a proper definition of the true doctrine. Unitarians often misrepresent the Trinity as modalism or tritheism. They then refute the idea that the Father is the same Person as the Son and as the Spirit, or then refute the idea that there are three gods, and state that they have refuted the still untouched Trinitarian position. Unitarians also often ignore the Christian doctrine that the Lord Jesus is one Person with two natures, one fully Divine and one fully human. They then take passages that deal with His human nature, demonstrate that He (as a true man of necessity does) has human attributes such as dependence upon God, and affirm that these texts, although they really have no bearing on the issue, prove the Son does not have a Divine nature. Modalists also like to misrepresent the Trinity as tritheism and confuse the Person and natures of Christ. A proper understanding of the definition of the Trinity in itself refutes many of the arguments made against it.
Anti-Trinitarians also have the burden of proof when they utilize the passages of Scripture examined below. They must, after refuting the positive arguments for the Trinity given in earlier sections of this book, show that the passages they now bring forth to state their case are absolutely incompatable and unreconcilable with the Trinitarian position. The Trinitarian does not need to prove anything with these verses—he has not built his case for the Triune God upon them; he must simply demonstrate that one (or more) ways exist to reconcile the anti-Trinitarian “proof-texts” with his theology. If one of these alleged proof-texts, examined on its own without any recourse to other portions of Scripture, could bear either an anti-Trinitarian or a Trinitarian interpretation, it has failed to refute the Trinity. It will not do to force an anti-Trinitarian interpretation upon verses that do not require it, ignore or tread lightly over the masses of verses that support the Trinity, and then favor either Unitarianism or modalism—Scripture is not contradictory. Trinitarians affirm that theirs is a balanced view of Scripture—they can affirm every text in the Bible that relates to the Divine nature, while Unitarians, modalists, and all other doctrines of God must pick certain verses, emphasize those, and negelect other equally inspired texts. If anti-Trinitarians wish to establish their doctrine from the Word of God, they cannot unbalance the Bible. Finally, the anti-Trinitarian cannot merely attempt to rip apart the Trinitarian conception; he must also build a coherent, compelling, Biblical case for his own theological alternative. The Arian must prove that Jesus Christ is the creator of everything except himself and a secondary true god underneath God the Father, not just argue against the Son being the Almighty God. He must prove that the Holy Spirit is impersonal, not just argue against His personality and Deity. The modalist must prove that Jesus is the Father and Jesus is the Holy Spirit, and prove as well (if he adopts this version of modalism) that the word Father refers to Christ’s Divine nature and the word Son to His human nature; he cannot just argue against Trinitarian personal distinctions. Thus, Unitarians and modalists face two requirements if they wish to establish their views as Biblical. Negatively, they must refute all the verses given in favor of the Trinity, and provide texts of their own that do not just create doubt about Divine Tri-unity but entirely eliminate the doctrine as a possibility. Positively, they must demonstrate that their own particular alternative theology is the position of Scripture. Only if they accomplish both of these tasks have they accomplished their goal with their proof-texts and arguments.
B. Objections Common to Unitarians and Modalists
1.) The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible.
2.) The doctrine of the Trinity comes from paganism.
Unitarians and modalists often directly affirm that Trinitarianism is derived from paganism. They commonly quote various publications as well to support such affirmations. For example, the Watchtower society, representative of modern Bible-affirming Arianism, declares “The Encyclopedia of Religion admits: ‘Theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of the Trinity.’ . . . The Encyclopedia of Religion says: ‘Theologians agree that the New Testament also does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity.’” If they state, Trinitarianism does not come from the Bible, where does it come from? The Watchtower references the book “The Paganism in Our Christianity [which] declares: ‘The origin of the [Trinity] is entirely pagan.’” Similarly, the modalist leader David Bernard writes, “[T]he idea of a trinity did not originate with Christendom. It was a significant feature of pagan religions and philosophies before the Christian era, and its existence today in various forms suggests an ancient, pagan origin. . . . The Scriptures do not teach the doctrine of the trinity, but trinitarianism has its roots in paganism.” However, the allegation that Trinitarian doctrine comes from paganism, rather than from Scripture, is entirely false. This notion has several severe problems.
First, since the word “Trinity” is not found in pre-Christian pagan writings, this objection to the Trinity contradicts the first one mentioned, namely, that Trinitarianism is unbiblical because the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. If the fact that the word is not present means that the idea is not present, then the fact that the word “Trinity” is not in pre-Christian pagan authors means the idea is not found in paganism. The last objection to Trinitarianism contradicts the one at hand. Anti-Trinitarians should make up their minds to stick to the one or the other, but not employ them both. However, despite their contradictory nature, Unitarians and modalists generally do exactly this. For example, the Unitarian and modalist compositions quoted in the previous paragraph both employ the “the word ‘Trinity’ is not in the Bible” attack. Anti-Trinitarian compositions often do not worry about the logical consistency of their allegations, but simply employ whatever attacks sound good at the time, even if they are contradictory.
Second, the affirmation that Trinitarianism came from paganism is not sustainable historically. As demonstrated earlier in this work, Trinitarianism is taught from Genesis to Revelation. The idea that, centuries after the inspiration of the New Testament, paganism somehow crept in and brought forth the idea of the Trinity is impossible in light of the clear Biblical evidence for Trinitarianism and the testimony of post-Biblical Christianity from even the earliest period.
Furthermore, the writers quoted in anti-Trinitarian literature to support their affirmations of the non-Biblical, pagan origin of the Trinity are usually extremely suspect. While, since “of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12), it is not possible to trace and evaluate every single quotation in every anti-Trinitarian composition, an evaluation of the sources employed in the Watchtower’s Should You Believe in the Trinity? quoted above will be evaluated as representative of much of the distortion and misinformation advanced in the anti-Trinitarian cause.
As mentioned above, in the section of Should You Believe in The Trinity? entitled, “Is It Clearly a Bible Teaching?” the Watchtower writes: “The Encyclopedia of Religion admits: ‘Theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of the Trinity.’ . . . The Encyclopedia of Religion says: ‘Theologians agree that the New Testament also does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity.’” The very vague references, without author, page number, volume number, publisher, or any other source information besides the title, can with diligence be traced to the many-volumed Encylopedia of Religion, and found within the article on the Trinity in that set. There the article in the Encyclopedia does indeed declare, “Theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of the Trinity . . . the New Testament also does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity.” However, the article goes on to say “the exclusively masculine imagery [that is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] of trinitarian doctrine [is a problem]. The fatherhood of God should be rethought in light of the critique of feminist theologies and also in view of the nonpatriarchal understanding of divine paternity . . . the Christian doctrine of God must be developed also within the wider purview of other world religions . . . [it] cannot be christomonistic, excluding persons of other faiths from salvation.” The reason the author of this article in the encyclopedia, Catherine Mowry LaCugna, denies that the Trinity is a Biblical doctrine is the same reason she thinks the “fatherhood of God should be rethought” and asserts that non-Christians are going to heaven—she is an radically liberal, anti-Bible “feminist theologian” who believes that much of the doctrine of the “Trinity is metaphysical speculation that must be rejected because it has given rise to ‘sexist and patriarchal’ outcomes . . . . [Her] approach [has] almost no reference to the biblical text and [manifests a] disdain for church history, [while it also] does not allow for the notion of truth or revelation outside of personal subjective experience.” “LaCugna argues that early Christian history and dogma took an improper approach by defining God’s inner life, the self-relatedness of the Father, Son and Spirit . . . she believes that valid criticisms have been made by liberation and feminist theologians about the Christian doctrine of God as sexist and oppressive . . . [she argues for a doctrine of God that will] allow oppressed persons (women and the poor) to be able to restructure the human community . . . [she believes that] the doctrine of monotheism . . . must be discarded . . . [while the inspiration of the Bible is also rejected, to affirm that] God can only reveal to people what they experience.” The Arians in the Watchtower society wish to convey the idea that rational scholarship, as evidenced in a weighty Encyclopedia, knows that the Trinity is not a Biblical doctrine—one who discovers that the quotations made are actually the raving of a far-left radical feminist who rejects Scripture, monotheism, and the Fatherhood of God, but believes that people can become deified, are not very likely to be impressed. The reason the Watchtower makes the reference hard to look up becomes clear.
To prove that Trinitarianism developed from Platonic philosophy, the Watchtower does not quote Plato, but rather mentions that in “the book A Statement of Reasons, Andrews Norton says of the Trinity: ‘We can trace the history of this doctrine, and discover its source, not in the Christian revelation, but in the Platonic philosophy . . . The Trinity is not a doctrine of Christ and his Apostles, but a fiction of the school of the later Platonists.’” No further information is offered for the quotations, such as the publisher the pages in the book, or even more than a fragment of the title—not to mention the qualification of the author to comment on the subject. One can, through labor intensive research that the great majority of people who read Should You Believe in the Trinity? will not undertake, as the Arians who introduced the quotation are aware, discover the source of the quotation in a rare, book written over 150 years ago. The powerful bias against the Trinity manifested by the fact that its author, Andrews Norton, was a Unitarian, and his book was published by a Unitarian association, is conveniently omitted, as is the great majority of the title of his book; a work by an unknown Andrews Norton entitled A Statement of Reasons is going to be much less obviously biased than a work entitled A Statement of Reasons for not Believing the Doctrines of Trinitarians concerning the Nature of God and the Person of Christ published by a prominent member of an association of Arian Trinity-haters. But did Norton faithfully believe that the Bible was the Word of God, and did he write against the Trinity because it contradicted his unwavering faith in the infallible Scriptures? Elsewhere in his Statement of Reasons for Not Believing the Doctrines of Trinitarians, he wrote:
Our Lord [Jesus Christ] . . . speaks of descending from heaven, conform[ing] his language to the conception of the Jews, that heaven was the peculiar abode of God. But we cannot receive this conception as true . . . there is no rational foundation for the opinion[.] . . . [T]he conceptions of the Apostle [Paul] respecting our Lord’s future coming were erroneous . . . There is so little reason to suppose that the Second Epistle ascribed to St. Peter was written by him, that it is not to be quoted as evidence of his opinions. . . . I do not refer to the Apocalypse as the work of St. John, for I do not believe it to be so. . . . [The Apocalypse contains a large degree of] imperfection [in] its language[.] . . . [T]he Apostles . . . all appear to have expected [Christ’s] personal and visible return to earth . . . to exercise judgment, to reward his faithful followers, to punish the disobedient, and to destroy his foes . . . [t]hese expectations were erroneous . . . they . . . adopted the errors of their age[.] . . . The Jews [believed that there were] . . . many supposed predictions and types of their Messiah [in their] . . . sacred books[.] . . . This mode of interpretation was adopted by some of the Apostles . . . this mistake was not corrected by Christ . . . this whole system of interpretation . . . so far as the supposed prophecies were applied to [Christ, was] erroneous. . . . [I]n [Christ’s] discourses . . . he speaks, according to the belief of the Jews, of Satan as if he were a real being . . . [but he is an] imagination [and a symbol for the] abstract idea of moral evil.
Norton’s rejection of Scripture for rationalism led him to reject the Trinity as “a doctrine which among intelligent men has fallen into neglect and disbelief. . . . [R]eligion must become the study of philosophers, as the highest philosophy. . . . The proper modern doctrine of the Trinity . . . is to be rejected, because . . . it is incredible. . . . The docrine of the Trinity, then, and that of the union of two natures in Christ, are doctrines which, when fairly understood, it is impossible, from the nature of the human mind, should be believed. . . . [T]hey are intrinsically incapable of any proof whatever . . . they are of such a character, that it is impossible to bring arguments in their support, and unnecessary to adduce arguments against them. Here, then, we might rest.” Andrews Norton’s fallen, sinful, mortal mind did not understand the revelation God had made of Himself as Triune. It did not meet his criteria of acceptable philosophy, and he thought it was impossible to believe, no matter what God said about it in the Bible. Norton did not reject the Trinity because he thought it was against the plain teaching of the Scripture and an import from paganism that was contrary to the infallible Word of God—he rejected the Trinity because he could not understand it perfectly and he idolatrously placed his mind above the all-knowing Lord.
The Watchtower quotation also conveniently left out devastating admissions the book itself states in between the two sections ten pages apart that are strung together to create the quote in Should You Believe in the Trinity?. Norton himself admitted that the idea “Plato . . . anticipated [the Trinity is an] error, for which there is no foundation. Nothing resembling the doctrine of the Trinity is to be found in the writings of Plato himself.” Not only is there not a single quote from Plato in Norton’s chapter which is to prove that “we can trace the history of [the Trinity], and discover its source, not in the Christian revelation, but in the Platonic philosophy,” there is not a single quotation from a later pagan philosopher of the Platonic school. No pre-Christian writers are cited. Plato is not cited. Pagan Platonic philosophers are not cited. Why? Norton does not “adduce the facts on which [his assertion that the Trinity comes from Platonic philosophy is] founded, because the facts could not be satisfactorily stated and explained in a small compass.” Norton tells his readers that, in the course of a chapter that is to prove that the Trinity came from Platonism, within a book written to oppose the Trinity, a book of 499 pages, not including forty-nine additional pages of numbered introductory material—and thus a massive volume of over 548 pages—he does not have any room to give even one quotation from Plato or a pagan Platonist to prove that the Trinity comes from Platonic paganism! The more modern Arians in the Watchtower Society will not, in their work Should You Believe in the Trinity?, quote Plato or a pagan Platonist to show that the Trinity comes from paganism—they will quote an earlier Arian, Andrews Norton. Andrews Norton will not quote Plato or a later pagan Platonist to show that the Trinity comes from pagan Platonism—he has no room for that in his 548 page book. If Norton will not quote Plato or Platonists to prove that the Trinity came from Platonism, how will he attempt to do it? In between the pages the Watchtower quotes, Norton cites various “learned Trinitarians . . . [who] in admitting the influence of the Platonic doctrine upon the faith of the early Christians, of course do not regard the Platonic as the original source of the Orthodox doctrine, but many of them represent it as having occasioned errors and heresies, and in particular the Arian heresy.” Norton quotes Trinitarians who say that Platonic philosophy influenced early Christiandom to prove that the Trinity came from Platonism—but he admits that these same authors declare that the Platonic influence did not produce the doctrine of the Trinity, but was the source of many errors, principly the Arian doctrine. Thus, the support Norton gives for his affirmation that the Trinity is false because it comes from paganism comes from historians who affirm that Arianism is what actually comes from paganism! It should be clear why the Watchtower wishes to keep Norton’s character as a Unitarian obscured, and to make their quotation from him very hard to trace. Andrews Norton gives no evidence at all from Plato or Platonic philosophers for his contention. Norton admits that Plato did not teach the Trinity. Norton admits that the Trinitarian historians who he quotes to prove his point actually affirm the opposite of his position, that is, that Platonic philosophy was the source of the Unitarian heresy, not of the Trinity. Someone who read Norton’s chapter and believed it was convincing would have to either have an extreme pre-formed bias against the Trinity or be amazingly gullible. But the Watchtower will leave out all these facts—culled from the pages between the first and second half of their own quotation—and thus reproduce a quotation that is not only entirely inaccurate but clearly intentionally misleading.
When the Unitarians in the Watchtower society wish to prove that the Trinity comes from paganism in general, they quote, more often than any other single reference book in their Should You Believe In the Trinity? the work “The Paganism in Our Christianity [which] declares: ‘The origin of the [Trinity] is entirely pagan.’” While the lack of context makes the quotation extremely difficult to trace, one can with great diligence discover that it comes from pg. 197 of the book in question, written by one Arthur Wiegall (New York, NY: Knickerbocker Press, 1928). An extensive quotation of Wiegall will demonstrate to all just how credible—or rather, incredible—he is:
[T]he miraculous . . . made [Christ] God incarnate to the thinkers of the First Century; all these marvels make Him a conventional myth to those of the Twentieth. Many of the most erudite critics are convinced that no such person [as Jesus Christ] ever lived. . . . [The] twelve disciples [were invented from] the twelve signs of the Zodiac. . . . [The gospels are] meagre and garbled accounts . . . borrowed from paganism . . . many of the details of the life of our Lord are too widly improbable to be accepted in these sober days. . . . [M]any gods and semi-divine heroes have mothers whose names are variations of “Mary” . . . the name of our Lord’s mother may have been forgotten and a stock name substituted. . . . . The mythological origin of [the record of Jesus’ birth] is so obvious that the whole story must be abandoned. . . . [When] St. Luke says that when the child was born Mary wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger . . . [the] author was here drawing upon Greek mythology. . . . The story of the Virgin Birth . . . is derived from pagan sources. . . . The story of the forty days in the wilderness and the temptation by Satan . . . [comes from] a pagan legend. . . . the account of the Crucifixion . . . parallels . . . rites of human sacrifice as practiced by the ancients. . . . In primitive days it was the custom in many lands for a king or ruler to put his own son to death as a sacrifice to the tribal god. . . . in the primitive Passover a human victim was probably sacrificed. . . . [T]he side of Jesus [being] pierced by a lance . . . [relates to] a widespread custom [like] . . . the primitive Albanians used to sacrifice a human being to the moon-goddess by piercing his side with a spear. . . . Nobody in his senses now believes that Jesus ascended into Heaven . . . His body must anyhow have died or been cast aside. . . . such an ascension into the sky was the usual end to the mythical legends of the lives of pagan gods . . . [T]he Christian expression “washed in the blood of the Lamb” is undoubtably a reflection of . . . the rites of Mithra. . . . [T]he worshippers of Mithra practiced baptism by water. . . . There is no authentic evidence that Jesus ever intended to establish a Church . . . the Lord’s Supper has been changed . . . under Mithraic and other ancient influences. . . . The doctrine of the Atonement . . . nauseates the modern mind, and . . . is of pagan origin, being indeed the most obvious relic of heathendom in the Faith . . . it is not, of course, supported by anything known to have been said by Jesus. . . . this idea of a god dying for the benefit of mankind, and rising again, had is origin in the fact that nature seemed to die in winter and revive in spring. . . . [T]he Logos [the Greek term for “Word,” used of the Lord Jesus in John 1:1, 14; 1 John 5:7; Revelation 19:13] theory, which had been adopted by the author of the Gospel of St. John from the philosophy of Philo . . . went a long way towards establishing the identification of Jesus Christ with God . . . the idea of the Logos itself was pagan. . . . Sunday, too, was a pagan holy day . . . the Jewish Sabbath . . . is obviously derived from moon-worship. . . . Now Sunday . . . had been for long the holy day in the solar religions of Mithra . . . Christians . . . [worshipped on Sunday] by pagan custom. . . . in this Twentieth Century thoughtful men . . . [reject] the phantom crowd of savage and blood-stained old gods who have come into the Church, and, by immemorial right, have demanded the worship of habit-bound man.”
Weigall is obviously an irrational, Bible-hating wacko. He provides no documentation, no proof for the claims in his book; they are nothing but the speculations of his feverishly anti-Christian mind. The Watchtower quotes Weigall more than any other individual in their Should You Believe in the Trinity?—despite the fact that a quote from him on the origin of the Trinity has about equal weight with a quote from a supermarket tabloid about King Kong being sighted in Yosemite National Park or one of the Tooth Fairy opening up a dental practice in New York City.
The quotations made by Arians and Unitarians to affirm that the Trinity is derived from paganism are unreliable and untrustworthy. The Scripture, which is superior to all uninspired historical evidence, manifests the Biblical origin of Trinitarianism. The Arian and Unitarian interpretation of post-Biblical history is also unscholarly and mythological. The idea that the Trinity is derived from paganism cannot be sustained.
Arians (and others) sometimes put together a variety of pictures of three pagan gods in a group to scare people into thinking that the Trinity comes from paganism, and sometimes manufacture or find various further quotations that allege that the Trinity was derived from various pagan religions. However, there simply is no connection between pagans who worshipped many gods and sometimes put three of them together (as they would sometimes put two, four, or some other number of their gods together in a particular idolatrous image) and the tri-unity of the one God of the Bible.
Similarly, Unitarians and modalists may affirm that Trinitarianism was derived from Plato or Platonic philosophy. They offer as proof for their contention extremely questionable quotations of the sort examined above, by people like Norton, Lacugna, and Weigall. What they do not do is quote Plato. A rather severe problem for their position is that the writings of Plato do not contain the doctrine of the Trinity. Nor do the writings of Aristotle or other pre-Christian pagan philosophers. Similarities of language between post-Christian neo-Platonic philosophers and Christian Trinitarians are weak, and similarites of meaning are either nonexistent or very strained. If they were to indicate anything, they would demonstrate the influence of Christian theology upon the thought of post-Christian pagan philosophy, rather than the reverse. Furthermore, even if one were to establish genuine and clear Trinitarian testimonial from pre-Christian pagan writings—which cannot be done—it would not demonstrate that Christians took pagan ideas into their theological system when they believed in the Trinity. The fact that the fundamentals of Trinitarian doctrine were given to Adam (Genesis 1:2, 26), recognized by righteous Gentiles in the Old Testament era (Job 19:25-27; 33:4, echoing Genesis 1:2) and believed by Israel in the Mosaic economy (Isaiah 48:16) makes the consideration that remnants of the original Trinitarian revelation might be present among those descendents of Adam that fell into paganism, or among those pagans influenced by Israel or righteous Gentiles in the Old Testament era, a definite possibility. In this case, Trinitarian ideas present in pre-Christian, non-Jewish writings would be evidence of influence from the God of Adam and of Israel. What cannot in any wise be established historically is that Christian Trinitarianism was simply the influx of pagan thought into theological thinking.
Actually, unlike Trinitarianism, both Arian and Sabellian theology resulted in large measure from the influence of pagan thought upon Christianity. “[The system of] Sabellius . . . sprung out of Judaizing and Gnostic tendencies which were indigenous to Egypt. . . . [A] pantheistic tendency [also characterizes] Sabellianism as a whole. . . . Kindred ideas are also found in Pythagoreanism.” “[O]pposition to the Incarnate Word, when he really appeared, seemed to have predisposed [modalists, here discussed under the label of Monarchians] to accept a heathen philosophy, and to represent the Logos as Philo did as the manifest God not personally distinct from the concealed Deity. This error found its way into Christianity through the Gnostics, who were largely indepted to the Platonic school of Alexandria. . . . Sabellianism [in part is] found even in the later schools of gnostics, and the later Sabellianism approached to an emanation theory. . . . The leading tenet of the Monarchians [modalists] thus appears to have been introduced into Christianity principally through the Alexandrian Jews and the Gnostics. It may also have been derived immediately from heathen philosophers. . . . [T]he Monarchians who identified the Son with the Father and admitted at most only a modal trinity, a threefold mode of revelation . . . proceeded, at least in part, from pantheistic preconceptions, and approached the ground of Gnostic docetism.” Modalism is a concept which mixes Christianity and paganism.
Similarly, “Arius . . . was following . . . a path inevitably traced for him by the Middle Platonist preconceptions he had inherited,” since “the impact of Platonism reveals itself in . . . thoroughgoing subordinationism.” The Arian view of the incarnation of Christ “took as its premis[e] [a] Platonic conception.”
Examining the history of ancient Christianity, one notes that no physical evidence exists of Arius, Sabellius, or the disciples of either of these heretics affirming and disperaging Trinitarian doctrine as derived from paganism, while testimony from ancient Christiandom affirms that modalist and Unitarian heretics derived their ideas from paganism. The Trinitarian Tertullian spoke strongly against the adoption of pagan philosophy, mentioning that “Plato has been the caterer to all these heretics” and speaks of “doctrines which the heretics borrow from Plato.” He writes, “Indeed heresies are themselves instigated by [pagan] philosophy.” Specifically speaking against the Unitarian heresy, Athanasius declared, “when the unsound nature of their phrases had been exposed at that time, and they were henceforth open to the charge of irreligion, that they proceeded to borrow of the Greeks [pagan philosophy] . . . so unblushing are they in their irreligion, so obstinate in their blasphemies against the Lord. . . . they are contentious, as elsewhere, for unscriptural positions . . . [their language, namely, adopting the term “Unoriginate” for God over “Father,” is] of the Greeks who know not the Son.” Ambrose wrote, “Let us now see how far Arians and pagans do differ. . . . The pagans assert that their gods began to exist once upon a time; the Arians lyingly declare that Christ began to exist in the course of time. Have they not all dyed their impiety in the vats of philosophy?” The evidence from patristic writers affirms that the doctrines of Arianism, Sabellianism, and other heresies were influenced by paganism. No extant ancient writer affirms that the Trinity was borrowed from pagan philosophy. Who is more likely to be correct on the development of Trinitarian theology—those who lived in the first centuries of Christianity, or the wackos quoted by modern Arians and Sabellians who lived a millenium and a half after the end of the ancient church period?
Arian arguments against the Trinity that involve verses of Scripture may be divided into four major categories. 1.) Arians misrepresent the Trinity as tritheism and prove monotheism, there is only one God. 2.) Arians misrepresent the Trinity as modalism and prove that the Father, Son, and Spirit are not the same Person. 3.) Arians ignore the fact that the Son of God is one Person with two distinct natures, one fully human and one fully Divine, and use verses that speak of the Lord Jesus’ human nature to deny that He is also a Divine Person. Similarly, they regularly confuse the economic and ontological Trinity. 4.) Arians also make certain further uncategorizable arguments. A recognition of these four categories is important for both those who believe in the living God and for Arians. A Trinitarian who knows and can refute Arian allegations is far better equipped to seek to turn those decieved by Unitarian error from darkness to light. Furthermore, an understanding of Unitarian misrepresentations of Trinitarianism enables the Christian to have, through a clearer understanding of what his God is not, a deeper knowledge of who He is. He can thus more effectively “love the Lord [his] God with all . . . [his] mind” (Matthew 22:37). Also, since Unitarians “by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:18), Trinitarians need to pass beyond easily decieved spiritual simplicity to a deep and sound knowledge of the truth. It is important beyond measure for Arians to know and recognize the errors of their arguments, that “God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26)—for until an Arian repents, “He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father” (1 John 2:22-23). The four categories of objections will be examined in order. In each category, the general nature of the objection will be stated, quotations from Unitarian sources stating it will be supplied, verses employed to support the objection will be listed, and a Biblical answer will be given.
1.) Unitarian misrepresentations of the Trinity as tritheism and arguments for monotheism
Arians argue that the Biblical truth of monotheism requires the rejection of Tri-unity in God. Since Trinitarians affirm that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, Unitarians allege that they believe in three gods. After proving that the Bible teaches that there is only one God, Arians then affirm that they have refuted the Trinity.
God is one, not three. . . . The Bible teaching that God is one is called monotheism. . . . [M]onotheism . . . does not allow for a Trinity. . . . The Old Testament is strictly monotheistic. . . . On this point there is no break between the Old Testament and the New. The monotheistic tradition is continued. . . . Thousands of times throughout the Bible, God is spoken of as one person. When he speaks, it is as one undivided individual. The Bible could not be any clearer on this. . . . Why would all the God-inspired Bible writers speak of God as one person if he were actually three persons? What purpose would that serve, except to mislead people? . . . God is one Person—a unique, unpartitioned Being who has no equal.”
Verses mentioned by Arians to support the fact that there is only one God include Exodus 20:2-3; Deuteronomy 6:4; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 42:8; 45:5; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; and Galatians 3:20. These references, and many others, demonstrate the truth of monotheism, that there is only one God.
Since Trinitarians are passionately committed to monotheism, this Unitarian argument is only convincing to people who are ignorant of the Trinitarian faith and who consequently believe Arians when they say that Trinitarianism is a belief in three gods. No Trinitarian confession that presently exists, and none that has ever existed in history, has stated that there are three gods. Trinitarians believe that “The Lord our God is but one only living and true God . . . the essence [of God is] undivided,” and that “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Christian faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. But this is the Christian faith: That we worship one God . . . [not] dividing the substance . . . there are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated: nor three immeasurable: but one uncreated, and one immeasurable. . . . [T]here are not three Almighties: but one Almighty. . . . [T]here are not three Gods; but one God. . . . not three Lords; but one Lord. . . . [W]e [are] forbidden by the Christian religion to say, there are three Gods, or three Lords. . . . He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.” Someone who believes that there are three gods is not a Trinitarian. Only anti-Trinitarians say that the Trinity is a belief in three gods. According to Trinitarians, someone who believes in three gods is not a Trinitarian, nor a Christian, and is certain of damnation. The affirmation that Trinitarians deny monotheism and believe in three gods is a vile slander, a lie originating from the father of lies (John 8:44). While some Unitarians may repeat this terrible misrepresentation in ignorance, believing the lies of their leaders, many Arian teachers and producers of Arian apologetic literature intentionally twist the Trinitarian position. Since tritheism is obviously and grossly unscriptural, if Unitarians can caricature the Trinitarian faith as a belief in three gods, they can “refute the Trinity” with passages proving there is only one God. Invalid arguments and misrepresentations like this are necessary for the Unitarian who is not willing to repent—the Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity cannot be refuted Biblically, because it is the revealed truth from the Triune God who Authored the Bible.
The affirmations of Scripture that God is one are exactly what one expects to find in the Bible if Trinitarianism is true. Unitarians who believe in an infallible Bible, in contrast, end up supporting a form of polytheism, where the Father becomes a greater God and the Son becomes a lesser god. While they slander Trinitarianism as a belief in three gods, they themselves believe in (at least) two gods. The ancient “Arians worshipped Christ; ‘although not very God, He is God to us’ [they believed]. . . . The Arians worshipped Christ, whom they regarded as a created being: therefore, the [Trinitarians] urge[d] with one consent, they were idolaters. The idea of a created being capable of being worshipped was an Arian legacy to the Church, no doubt. But this very idea . . . marked them out as idolaters.” In the words of an ancient opponent of Arianism, “if . . . the Word is a creature and a work out of nothing . . . if [Arians] name Him God from regard for the Scriptures, they must of necessity say that there are two Gods,” for “The Arians were in the dilemma of holding two gods or worshipping the creature.” Ancient Trinitarians confessed that they worshipped only the one true God: “We do not worship a creature. Far be the thought. For such an error belongs to heathens and Arians.” Modern Arians agree with their ancient counterparts that the Son can get “worship” as “a god.” Modern Trinitarians continue to affirm, with the Scriptures and against the effective denial of the doctrine by Arianism, that there is only one true God and one Lord of all, and He alone is to receive worship.
The great truth of monotheism does not undermine Trinitarianism in any way—it is part of the essence of the Trinitarian doctrine. Unitarians can only attempt to use monotheism against the Trinity by means of misrepresentation, slander, and deceit. Indeed, it is the Arian doctrine that truly undermines the essential oneness of God.
2.) Unitarian misrepresentations of the Trinity as modalism and arguments that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not the same Person
Arians argue that the Scripture presents the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three distinct entities. Since Trinitarians believe that there is only one God, Arians argue that they must believe that the Father is the same Person as the Son and as the Holy Spirit. After proving from Scripture that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different, Arians then affirm that they have refuted the Trinity.
Someone [Jesus] who is “with” another person cannot also be that other person [the Father]. . . . Since Jesus had a God, his Father, he could not at the same time be that God. . . . At the very outset of Jesus’ ministry, when he came up out of the baptismal water, God’s voice from heaven said: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” . . . Was God saying that he was his own son, that he approved himself, that he sent himself? . . . Paul also said that Christ entered “heaven itself, so that he could appear in the actual presence of God on our behalf.” . . . If you appear in someone else’s presence, how can you be that person? You cannot. You must be different and separate. Similarly, just before being stoned to death, the martyr Stephen . . . saw two separate individuals. . . . To whom was [Jesus] praying? To a part of himself? . . . Then, as he neared death, Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?” To whom was Jesus crying out? To himself or to part of himself? . . . And if Jesus were God, then by whom was he deserted?
John said that he had written his Gospel so that readers might come to believe that “Jesus is the Christ the Son of God”—not that he was God. . . . [T]he 144,000 have the Lamb’s “name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.” . . . Could “the Lamb” be the same as “his Father”? Clearly not. In the Bible they are distinct. . . [T]he fact that the Father is a separate person [from the Son], is highlighted also in the prayers of Jesus . . . Someone who is “with” another person cannot be the same as that other person.
Verses mentioned by Arians to support the fact that the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct include Revelation 14:1, 3; John 1:1b; Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 15:34; Hebrews 9:24; Acts 7:55; and many others. The verses mentioned in the refutation of modalism in this book also demonstrate that the Father, Son, and Spirit are, indeed, distinct.
Since Trinitarians deny that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are the same Person, this argument is effective only with people who are ignorant of the Trinitarian faith, and who consequently believe Arians when they state that this false doctrine is Trinitarianism. No Trinitarian confession that presently exists, and none that has ever existed in history, has affirmed that the Father, Son, and Spirit are the same Person—this is the modalistic heresy. Trinitarians believe that in the one God “there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word (or Son), and the Holy Spirit . . . the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son . . . distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations.” They affirm that “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Christian faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. But this is the Christian faith: That we worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity; Neither confounding the persons; nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father: another of the Son: another of the Holy Ghost. . . . The Father is made of none; neither created; nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone: not made; nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son: not made; neither created; nor begotten; but proceeding. . . . He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.” Trinitarians reject modalism, and modern modalistic groups, such as Oneness Pentecostalism, vehemently reject the Trinity. Arians are just about the only ones who state that the Trinity teaches that the Father is the Son and the Son is the Holy Spirit. According to Trinitarians, someone who believes in modalism is not a Trinitarian, nor a Christian, and is certain of damnation. The Arian accusation is a slander and a lie. While some Unitarians may repeat this terrible misrepresentation in ignorance, believing the lies of their leaders, many Arian teachers and producers of Arian apologetic literature intentionally twist the Trinitarian position. Since modalism is refuted by many passages in Scripture, if Unitarians can twist the Trinitarian doctrine into it, they can “refute the Trinity” with passages proving that the Father, Son, and Spirit are different. Invalid arguments and misrepresentations like this are necessary for the Unitarian who is not willing to repent—the Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity cannot be refuted Biblically, because it is the revealed truth from the Triune God who Authored the Bible.
It should be noted that this second Arian argument, that the Trinity false because modalism is false, directly contradicts the first objection, that the Trinity is false because tritheism is false. On the one hand, if Trinitarians really believed in three gods, a Father god, a Son god, and a Holy Spirit god, then to argue that someone who is “with another person cannot also be that other person” would be irrelevent, since the “Trinitarian” would respond, “But I believe that the Father and Son are two different gods, not the same person.” On the other hand, if Trinitarians really believed in modalism, to argue that “God is spoken of as one person. . . . all the God-inspired Bible writers speak of God as one person” would be irrelevent, since the “Trinitarian” would respond, “I believe exactly this; the Father is the Son, and the Son is the Spirit; they are the same person.” Unitarians should at least pick one slander and stick to it, rather than, as the great majority of them do, employing both of these contradictory misrepresentations at the same time. However, since all who do not know the true, Triune God walk “in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:17-18), such incoherent and contradictory attacks upon the character of God should be expected. As long as men reject the Trinity, it matters little to Satan whether they do so because they believe the doctrine is tritheistic, modalistic, or somehow both at the same time.
Unitarians employ certain other arguments that involve the misrepresentation of Trinitarianism as modalism, but with a variety of further twists. These arguments often involve other misrepresentations of Trinitarianism as well, such as confusing the one Person and two natures of the Son of God (the third category of Arian arguments, examined subsequently). The major Unitarian asservations related to misdefining the Trinity as modalism are refuted below; the believer who has that Spirit who opens eyes to understand the Scriptures (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 2:10, 13) should be able to refute any other modalistic misrepresentations without specific further analysis.
Unitarians argue that nobody has seen God (John 1:18), but people have seen the Lord Jesus (John 1:14), so Jesus is not God. However, John 1:18 defines the “God” whom nobody has seen at any time as “the Father,” who “the only begotten Son” has “declared.” Of Him the apostle John declares, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). John 1:18a simply teaches that nobody has seen the Person of the Father at any time. When the Unitarian argument from John 1:18 is cleared of its ambiguities, it means, “nobody has seen God the Father (John 1:18a-c), but people have seen the Lord Jesus (John 1:14), so Jesus is not God the Father.” This form of the argument, which does indeed correspond to the teaching of the verses, is valid, but it refutes modalism rather than Trinitarianism. The anti-Trinitarian conclusion the Arian wishes to reach is, “nobody has seen God the Father, but people have seen the Lord Jesus, so Jesus is not God the Son,” but this is plainly invalid.
Indeed, the teaching of John 1:18 that nobody has ever seen the Father creates major problems for the Unitarian in the many passages where the Messenger or Angel of Jehovah was seen and identified as Jehovah Himself. The Trinitarian recognizes these appearances as a revelation of God the Son, and thus harmonizes these texts with John 1:18. The Unitarian has no adequate harmonization, but creates contradictions in Scripture.
Arians also argue that God cannot be tempted, but Jesus Christ was tempted, so the Lord Jesus Christ is not God. Referencing Matthew 4:1 and James 1:13, Arians ask, “Could God be tempted? . . . Jesus is spoken of as being ‘tempted by the Devil.’ . . . Satan was trying to cause Jesus to be disloyal to God. But what test of loyalty would that be if Jesus were God? Could God rebel against himself? No, but angels and humans could rebel against God and did. . . . So if Jesus had been God, he could not have been tempted.” This argument fails because the Lord Jesus Christ is one Person with two natures. In accordance with James 1:13, the Son of God, in His Divine nature, could not be tempted; He is immutably holy (Hebrews 7:26; 13:8). In contrast, the Lord Jesus’ human nature was both temptable and changeable—as Man, Christ was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Christ was temptable because He was human. This Unitarian argument assumes—it does not prove—that because the Lord is human, and thus temptable, He cannot be Divine as well. Its anti-Trinitarian conclusion requires the hidden and unproved anti-Trinitarian assumption that Christ does not have two natures. Having assumed its conclusion in its premises, it then states what it previously assumed to be true as if something had been accomplished. While this Unitarian argument proves nothing in favor of its doctrine, it is a fine example of poor exegesis and of illogic.
Unitarians also argue that since Jesus died, but God cannot die, Jesus cannot be God. The Watchtower society states, “After Jesus died, he was in the tomb for parts of three days. If he were God, then Habakkuk 1:12 is wrong when it says, ‘Oh my God, my Holy One, you do not die.’ But the Bible says that Jesus did die and was unconscious in the tomb. And who resurrected Jesus from the dead? If he was truly dead, he could not have resurrected himself. On the other hand, if he was not really dead, his pretended death would not have paid the price for Adam’s sin. But he did pay that price in full by his genuine death. So it was ‘God [who] resurrected [Jesus] by loosing the pangs of death.’ (Acts 2:24) The superior, God Almighty, raised the lesser, his servant Jesus, from the dead.” The problems in this argument are manifold. First, since Trinitarians are not modalists, they believe that the Father and the Son are distinct Persons, and when they say with the Scripture that on the cross “God . . . purchased . . . the church . . . with his own blood” (Acts 20:28), they mean that the Son died on the cross, not the Father, or the Holy Spirit, or the entire Godhead. Second, since Trinitarians believe that the Son is one Person with two distinct natures, one fully human and one fully Divine, when they say that Jesus Christ died on the cross, they do not mean that His Divine nature died, but that His human nature died; the Divinity of the Son of God has never been, and never will be, subject to death. Third, physical death for mankind signifies the separation of the soul and spirit from the body, not the cessation of conscious or unconcious existence or annihilation. The Arian argument from the Lord Jesus’ death involves the invalid assumption that the death of Christ meant that He ceased to exist for three days. Furthermore, since Scripture assigns the resurrection of the Lord Jesus not only to the Father (Acts 2:24; 3:15), and to the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 3:18), but to the Son Himself (John 2:19, 21; John 10:17-18), the contention that, death wrongly being equated with annihilation, Jesus “could not have resurrected himself,” flies directly in the face of the Biblical testimony. The declaration that the Lord Jesus, in His death, only “paid the price for Adam’s sin,” rather than for all sin (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:14; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5), is also a fearful error. So even if Habakkuk 1:12 read “you [God] shall not die” instead of what it really says, “we [God’s people] shall not die,” it would be entirely irrelevent as an anti-Trinitarian text. The Unitarian argument, when stated clearly, would run as follows: “Accepting as inspired a reading not found in any Hebrew manuscript, Habakkuk 1:12 states that God cannot die. Trinitarians believe that the human nature of Jesus Christ died on the cross. Therefore Jesus Christ does not have a Divine nature and is not God.” This is self-evidently invalid and a terribly poor argument.
Arians often attempt to refute Trinitarianism by confusing it with modalism and then proving that the Father, Son, and Spirit are different. This, however, is as invalid as confusing Trinitarianism with tritheism and then proving that there is only one God. Since the Trinity is a Biblical doctrine, there is no way to prove its actual affirmations erroneous with Scripture; the need for this sort of misrepresentation thus arises for those who are not willing to turn to the true God.
3.) Unitarian disregard for the Trinitarian and Christological doctrine that the Son is one Person with two natures, one fully human and one fully Divine
Arians argue that the Scripture presents the Son as subordinate to the Father. Since the Son was sent by His Father and became man, they conclude that He must, therefore, be created and inferior in His nature to the God. Many of the seemingly most convincing Unitarian arguments follow these lines. Their argument in general will first be examined, and then the particular passages that constitute the first-order of Arian Biblical argumentation will be individually examined.
Having been created by God, Jesus is in a secondary position in time, power, and knowledge . . . when God sent Jesus to earth as the ransom, he made Jesus to be . . . a perfect man, “lower than angels.” (Hebrews 2:9; compare Psalm 8:5, 6.) How could any part of an almighty Godhead—Father, Son, or holy spirit—ever be lower than angels?
The Father’s superiority over the Son, as well as the fact that the Father is a separate person, is highlighted also in the prayers of Jesus, such as the one before his execution: “Father, if you wish, remove this cup [that is, an ignominious death] from me. Nevertheless, let, not my will, but yours take place.” (Luke 22:42) If God and Jesus are “one in essence,” as the Trinity doctrine says, how could Jesus’ will, or wish, seem different from that of his Father?
Verses that indicate a form of subordination of the Son to the Father are mentioned in the quotation; others can also be used to argue for it. Texts Arians use to affirm that the Son is subordinate, as a creation by God, and which will be specifically examined in this section, are Mark 13:32; Hebrews 5:8; Revelation 1:1; John 14:28; 1 Corinthians 11:3; and 1 Corinthians 15:28.
Trinitarians believe that the “Lord Jesus Christ . . . [is] truly God, and truly man . . . consubstantialwith the Father as to his Godhead, and consubstantial also with us as to his manhood; like unto us in all things, yet without sin . . . the distinction of the natures being in no wise abolished by their union, but the peculiarity of each nature being maintained, and both concurring in one person.” They “believe and confess . . . [that] the Son of God, is . . . perfect God and perfect man. . . . Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood; who, although he be God and man: yet he is not two, but one Christ.” Passages of Scripture that affirm the equality of the Father and the Son speak of their sharing the common Divine essence; passages that speak of the subordination of the Son to the Father (when not referring to the distinction between the economic and ontological Trinity) very often refer to Christ’s human nature. Since the Lord Jesus is fully human, Trinitarians unhesitatingly affirm the important Biblical truth that He is “inferor to the Father as touching his manhood.” This fact by no means establishes Unitarianism; it is simply a necessary corollary of the genuine incarnation of the Son. The human nature of Christ did not always exist; it came into being in the first century. It is not all powerful, everywhere present, or all-knowing. It possesses none of the incommunicable Divine attributes, those that uniquely distinguish God from all of creation. The Lord Jesus Christ was a real human baby, who became a real child, who as He grew older “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). He grew tired (John 4:6) and needed to sleep (Mark 4:38). He ate (John 4:31; Luke 24:43). He wept (John 11:35). The Savior was in every way human, for “it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren”; had He not been so, He could not have made “reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). Humans are, by definition, inferior in nature to God. Were the Lord Jesus, considered as a man, not inferor and subordinate to the Father, He would not have been truly man, and He would not have been able to substitute Himself for and redeem men, nor represent them now as their High Priest, nor serve as an effective mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). Arians regularly take passages that deal with Christ as man, or that deal with some aspect of His human nature, and claim that these prove that He has no Divine nature, and is not God. This will not do; if Unitarians prove correct the portions of Trinitarian creeds that affirm the genuine humanity of Christ, they have hardly disproved the portions that affirm His genuine Deity. That Jesus is true man does not mean He is not true God. Such Arian arguments will only convince the one who does not properly understand the Trinitarian position. “Jesus is not God because the Bible teaches He is subordinate to the Father” sounds convincing, but when clarified as, “Jesus cannot have a Divine nature because His human nature is inferior to the Father’s Divine nature,” it is self-evidently invalid. The Unitarian “proof” does not address the issue.
Arians ask questions like “How could any part of an almighty Godhead . . . ever be lower than angels?” . . . If God and Jesus are ‘one in essence,’ how could Jesus’ will, or wish, seem different from that of his Father? They state, “Speaking of the resurrection of Jesus, Peter and those with him told the Jewish Sanhedrin: ‘God exalted this one [Jesus] . . . to his right hand.’ (Acts 5:31) Paul said: ‘God exalted him to a superior position’ (Philippians 2:9). If Jesus had been God, how could Jesus have been exalted, that is, raised to a higher position than he had previously enjoyed? He would already have been an exalted part of the Trinity. If, before his exaltation, Jesus had been equal to God, exalting him any further would have made him superior to God.” The answer to such questions is very simple, and very Trinitarian. Jesus Christ was not lower than the angels as God, but as man. As He has two natures, so He has two wills, one human and one Divine. The Lord Jesus was not exalted to the right hand of God as the eternal, preexistent Son of God, but as the perfectly human Son of Man He obtained more glory than He possessed during His earthly ministry (Philippans 2:8). As God the Son He was, even while on earth, in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18) and in heaven (John 3:13), and, as He was one in essence with the Father, He possessed for all of eternity past the very Divine glory of the Father’s own self, and so was unable to receive a higher rank of glory (John 17:5). As human, the “Son of man . . . [is] on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). As God, the Lord Jesus was omnipresent, and therefore did not need to leave the earth and ascend anywhere, but as man He had a body in a particular location and, after His resurrection, “was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19; cf. Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9). Proving that Christ is fully human does no more to refute the orthodox doctrine of the Deity of Christ than does proving that there is only one God or proving that the Father and the Son are distinct.
In Mark 13:32 (cf. Hebrews 5:8, Revelation 1:1), the Lord Jesus says, “of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” Commenting on this, Arians argue:
Jesus had limited knowledge . . . had Jesus been the equal Son part of a Godhead, he would have known what the Father knows. But Jesus did not know, for he was not equal to God. . . . Similarly, we read at Hebrews 5:8 that Jesus “learned obedience from the things he suffered.” Can we imagine that God had to learn anything? No, but Jesus did, for he did not know everything that God knew. And he had to learn something that God never needs to learn—obedience. God never has to obey anyone. The difference between what God knows and what Christ knows also existed when Jesus was resurrected to heaven to be with God. Note the first words of the last book of the Bible: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him.” (Revelation 1:1, RS, Catholic edition) If Jesus himself were part of a Godhead, would he have to be given a revelation by another part of the Godhead—God? Surely he would have known all about it, for God knew. But Jesus did not know, for he was not God.
When Unitarians use Mark 13:32 to attempt to deny the omniscience of the Son of God, they contradict John 21:17, where Peter tells Jesus Christ, “Lord, thou knowest all things,” and John 16:28-31, where the Lord Jesus’ discusses His relation to the Father. “His disciples [therefore] said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly . . . Now are we sure that thou knowest all things.” Recognizing that Christ is God, the disciples affirmed the Lord Jesus’ omniscience. Since omniscience, knowing everything, is a characteristic unique to the Almighty, had Jesus not been Jehovah their declaration would have been entirely inappropriate. No created being could, without sinning, have heard such an affirmation and refrained from rejecting it in the strongest sort of language. Christ, however, accepted their faith in His omniscience; recognizing His Deity was involved in believing in Him (John 16:31; cf. 20:28-29). Since the Lord Jesus is all-knowing, He can do what is possible only for Jehovah, not for Mary, any other human, or any other created being whatsoever; He can hear and answer prayers made to and through Him simultaneously by millions all over the world at the same time (1 Corinthians 1:2; Romans 10:12-13; John 14:12-13; cf. Joel 2:32; Zephaniah 3:9; Genesis 4:26, etc.). The Lord Jesus’ omniscience is also evidenced in His knowing all men and all that is in men (John 2:24-25), for “only” Jehovah knows these things (1 Kings 8:39; Proverbs 15:11). Christ is He who “he which searcheth the reins and hearts” (Revelation 2:23), but such working and knowledge is peculiar to Jehovah (Jeremiah 11:20; 17:10; Psalm 44:21, etc.). No human, no angel, no finite being could know every single man and absolutely everything about them—but the Son of God does, for He shares the same Divine essence as the Father and the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10). Every single thing that the Father does He shows the Son (John 5:20); only if the Son were omniscient could He comprehend everything involved in sustaining and governing all in the universe, from its vast expanses to its smallest atoms, not to mention the angelic world, and all else; He has the same knowledge as the Father Himself. The Son is omniscient, One “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
If many verses testify to the omniscience of God the Son, how can Mark 13:32 say that the time of the second coming is not known by the Son? The verse itself gives the answer; “of that day and that hour knoweth no man . . . but the Father.” The contrast is between the created order and God; Mark 13:32 speaks of Christ as the Son of man, not as the Son of God. The three Persons who possess the one Divine essence are omniscient—all created beings are not so. As the eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus is all-knowing (John 16:30); as the Son of man, as true man, consubstantial with Adam’s race and conceived in the womb of Mary in space and time, He is limited in knowledge. Not only does Mark 13:32 itself indicate that Son in the verse means Son of man, but in the immediate context of Christ’s discourse in Mark 13 (v. 26; cf. v. 34) the Lord refers to Himself as “Son of man.” By way of contrast, the phrase Son of God does not appear on the lips of the Lord Jesus anywhere in Mark 13—or in the gospel of Mark—or in the synoptic gospels. As a real human boy growing up, “Jesus increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52); He learned things that He had not known before. This was essential to His true humanity; if Christ was, in the words of the classic Trinitarian language of the creed of Chalcedon, “consubstantial also with us as to his manhood,” He could not be omniscient in His human nature; a genuinely human brain simply could not contain the almost infinite information found in the totality of creation. The Arian objection, “Jesus is not God, because He is not omniscient,” which appears strong, is really the argument, “Jesus is not God, because He is truly man,” which is very deficient. If the Lord Jesus had a “human” nature that was omniscient, He would not really have been human—and the classic Trinitarian doctrine of Christ would have been false.
Just as the affirmation of limited knowledge in Mark 13:32 relates to the Savior’s human nature, so Hebrews 5:8 relates to the Lord Jesus as High Priest, an office impossible apart from His genuine humanity. Like the Aaronic high priests, the Lord Jesus was “taken from among men” (Hebrews 5:1). While unlike those priests in that He never sinned, He was “compassed with infirmity” (5:2) in that He was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities; [being] in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). Since “no man” takes this honor to himself, He was called of God to the office (5:4-6). He was “flesh,” and in the garden of Gethsemane offered up “strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death” (v. 7; cf. Luke 22:44). It was as man that the Lord Jesus “learned . . . obedience by the things which he suffered” (v. 8), and, by means of His death, resurrection, and ascension, when He as man “passed into the heavens” (4:14) became the “perfect” (5:9; cf. 2:10) Redeemer and High Priest (v. 10). The affirmation of Hebrews 5:8 that the Lord Jesus “learned” does not relate to His Divine nature at all, or somehow prove that He did not have one—it is an affirmation about His human nature. Furthermore, even in relation to His humanity, Hebrews 5:8 is not an affirmation of limited cognition of facts. The verb “learned,” from manthano, here signifies learning “less through instruction than through experience or practice” (BDAG), that is, to “learn from experience” (LN). It is not that Christ did not know how to obey and then finally figured it out, but that He experienced obedience as He submitted Himself to the Father even to the death of the cross. This submission was necessary for Him to become the perfect High Priest and the “author of eternal salvation” (v. 9). Christ’s obedience is imputed to the elect, so that the Father reckons them as having perfectly obeyed on account of their Substitute; His obedience was not for Himself, but for us. For an Arian to quote Hebrews 5:8 and ask, “Can we imagine that God had to learn anything? No, but Jesus did, for he did not know everything that God knew,” as if Hebrews 5:8 had to do with the Savior, in the garden of Gethsemane, discovering facts about how to obey God that He did not know before, disasterously misinterprets the verse.
For a Unitarian to quote Revelation 1:1 and ask, “If Jesus himself were part of a Godhead, would he have to be given a revelation[?] . . . Surely he would have known all about it, for God knew,” is an even worse corruption of Scripture than the gross mistake of utilizing Hebrews 5:8 to argue that the Son of God has no Divine nature. Unfortunately for the Arian, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” which refers to the giving of the entire book of Revelation, obviously denotes Christ revealing Himself to man, by the sovereign ordination of the Father to Him as mediator (“which God gave unto him”), not Christ having knowledge revealed to Him. The very next clauses manifest the true interpretation of the verse. It is a revelation from Jesus Christ (and also about Jesus Christ) to His servants of “things to come” (John 16:12-13), specifically given to the apostle John by means of an angel. To twist Revelation 1:1 into an affirmation that the Son of God did not know certain things, and so He needed to get a revelation about them, is a frightful misinterpretation.
The Son of God, having become flesh, is now one divine Person with two distinct natures, so that He is fully God and fully man. Since He is true God, He is all knowing, and Scripure testifies to His omniscience; since He is true man, His humanity is necessarily limited in knowledge, and Scripture testifies to this important aspect of His identification with the sons of Adam. Unitarians fail badly when they argue against Christ’s Deity because of verses proving the Trinitarian truth that, considered as true man, the Lord Jesus is limited in knowledge.
In John 14:28, the Lord Jesus said, “my Father is greater than I.” Commenting on this, Unitarians argue:
The Bible’s position is clear. Not only is Almighty God, Jehovah, a personality separate from Jesus but He is at all times his superior. Jesus is always presented as separate and lesser, a humble servant of God. . . . And this is why Jesus himself said: “The Father is greater than I.” The fact is that Jesus is not God and never claimed to be.
Does John 14:28 establish an ontological subordination, an inferiority of being, of the Son of God to the Father? It cannot do so, because other texts affirm that the Son is “equal with God” (Philippians 2:6; John 5:18), one worthy of equal honor to the Father (John 5:23), so that the Lord Jesus said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), even as “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost . . . are one” (1 John 5:7). John 14:28 refers to the human nature of the Messiah, particularly to Christ in His pre-glorified state on earth as a servant. It fits perfectly with the Trinitarian faith that the Son is “equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood.” The verse itself demonstrates that the human nature of the Redeemer is in view; as the Son of man, who is limited in space to His completely human body, the Lord must “go away” and “go unto the Father” in heaven after His resurrection and ascension, and then “come again” at His second advent. As man, the Son is inferior to Father. The Father who sent Him is greater in authority (John 13:16; John 14:24). The incarnate Son was on earth when He spoke John 14:28, and His Divine glory was veiled (Philippians 2:7-8) until the time of the ascension (John 14:28b,f; 17:5); the Father endured no such limitation. Indeed, the Son of man was lower even than the angels during His earthly ministry (Hebrews 2:7, 9). In contrast, as the eternal Son of God, consubstantial with and equal to the Father, the Lord Jesus is omnipresent, and so does not “go” to the Father or “come” from Him: He is in heaven even while on earth (John 3:13), with no need, therefore, to ascend or descend; He “filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:23); He is in the midst of two or three gathered in His name all over the world (Matthew 18:20; 28:20; Mark 16:20); He dwells within the hearts of all His people everywhere and they are all in Him (John 6:56; 14:20, 23; 17:23; Romans 8:10; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27; Revelation 3:20), and the saints, all over the world, are “in Christ.” When Christ spoke the words of John 14:28, as the Son of man He was on earth before the disciples, soon to die, rise, and ascend to heaven; as the eternal Son of God He was and perpetually is “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18). Indeed, two affirmations of the omnipresence of the Person of the Son (John 14:20, 23; 15:2-7) bracket the statement in John 14:28 about the Lord Jesus’ human nature, its limitations in space (14:28, 31) and subjection to the Father (14:28). Unitarianism gains nothing with John 14:28.
In 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul stated, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” Commenting on this, Unitarians argue:
Almighty God, Jehovah, [is] a personality separate from Jesus [and] is at all times his superior. Jesus is always presented as separate and lesser, a humble servant of God. That is why the Bible plainly says that “the head of the Christ is God” in the same way that “the head of every man is the Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:3).
However, the phrase, “the head of Christ is God” speaks of the humanity of the Lord Jesus, not His Divine nature; it does not contradict the testimonies recorded elsewhere in 1 Corinthians to the Lord Jesus’ Deity (1:2; 8:6; 10:4, 9; cf. Exodus 17:5-6; 17:2, 7; Numbers 21:5-6; Deuteronomy 6:16). 1 Corinthians speaks about Christ as the perfect man, as the second Adam and the representative of redeemed humanity (1 Corinthians 15:20-22; cf. Ephesians 4:13, 15). As man, the head of the household, represents woman in Scripture, as man is the generic term for the human race, and even as the first Adam represented his wife in Genesis, so does the second Adam represent His people. Identified with the perfect man, the Lord Jesus, the people of God are dead with Christ (Colossians 2:20; 3:3), buried with Christ (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12), and risen with Christ (Ephesians 2:7; Colossians 3:1). The Messiah, the perfect Man, is the head of all other men (1 Corinthians 11:3b) and mediates the rule of God to man, bringing all those who are in Him underneath the rule of God, even as He is underneath that rule (1 Corinthians 11:3d). The affirmation of the full humanity of Christ found in 1 Corinthians 11:3 by no means denies His full Deity.
Furthermore, even if the headship spoken of had reference to the Son considered in His preincarnate state as God (which it does not), it would not establish an ontological subordination, but an economic differentiation in roles. The verse itself indicates that “the head of the woman is the man” (11:3c), and men are to have authority over women in the home (Ephesians 5:23), in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-3:5), and in the state (Isaiah 3:12), but both men and women are entirely equal as humans—both share in an identical human nature (Galatians 3:28). A subordination of role assumed by the Son to the Father in the work of redemption would not deny an equality of nature between them. This recognition is consistent with the use of the Greek word “head,” kephale, elsewhere in Scripture and related contemporary literature. Even if one denied the fact that the headship by God of Christ in 1 Corinthians 11:3 pertained to the Messiah as man, the Arian conclusion that the Son of God does not share the same Divine nature, but is ontologically inferior to the Father as a created being, would not follow. This verse does not help Unitarians at all.
1 Corinthians 15:28 reads, “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” Commenting on this verse, Unitarians argue:
After his resurrection, [Jesus] continues to be in a subordinate, secondary position. . . . In the everlasting future in heaven, Jesus will continue to be a separate subordinate servant of God. . . . Jesus never claimed to be God.
Many modalists also use 1 Corinthians 15:28 to attack the eternal equality of the Son of God with His Father. Does 1 Corinthians 15:28 deny that the Son is one in essence with the Father and prove that He has no Divine nature? Does the subjection mentioned in the verse prove that He is merely a creature, infinitely inferior in being, from eternity past to eternity future, to the Father—as is true of necessity for all of creation when contrasted to the Creator? Apart from the fact that such an affirmation would contradict vast numbers of passages of Scripture, it would be hard to see the contextual significance of such an affirmation in 1 Corinthians 15, with its emphasis upon the resurrection from the dead. Furthermore, if the verse speaks of a subordination of being, why is it that only when “all things shall be subdued unto him [Christ]” that “then shall the Son also himself be subject”? Why the “then” in the verse? If the apostle Paul wished to teach Unitarianism in this verse, how could he declare that only at this future period of time, only “then” in the eternal state, will the Son be subject? Is the Son equal to the Father now, but “then” He will no longer be equal? Would it not be the strangest of affirmations to declare that, at this present time, a part of creation, Christ, is equal in nature to his Creator, God, but in the future this created being will be inferior in his essence? If Arians wish to use 1 Corinthians 15:28 is to prove an ontological subordination of the Son to the Father, they would need to believe that the essence of the Son changes, so that He currently has an equal and unsubordinated Divine nature, but He will somehow surrender that nature in the future for one that is unequal and subject. Furthermore, if the Son is no longer to be Ruler of all, why do many passages of Scripture affirm that He “shall reign . . . for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end . . . of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end . . . upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. . . . All people, nations, and languages, [will] serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. . . . the everlasting kingdom [belongs to] our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. . . . Christ . . . shall reign for ever and ever . . . Unto the Son [the Father] saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever” (Luke 1:33; Isaiah 9:6-7; Daniel 7:14; 2 Peter 1:11; Revelation 11:15; Hebrews 1:8)? Ontology simply does not fit the sense of 1 Corinthians 15:28 at all; the subordination is of necessity one of role or office, an economic subordination pertaining to the Son as the Mediator. The Arian view of 1 Corinthians 15:28 contradicts the rest of the Bible and does not make sense of the verse itself in context. This should be expected, because it differs radically from the intention of the apostle who penned it, and of the Holy Spirit who gave the verse by inspiration.
1 Corinthians 15:24-28 deals with the mediatorial kingdom of Christ, a rulership that concerns the Son as the God-man or Theanthropos, which He fully assumed at His ascension, and which will have its manner of administration altered markedly at the consumation of time spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28. The passage refers of necessity to the mediatorial kingdom, not the universal kingdom of God, because v. 24 indicates that the reign in question is not in the hands of the Father—God never ceases to reign in His universal kingdom. The context of the passage strongly emphasizes the humanity of Christ; He died and rose again in His human nature, (v. 20); He is the second Adam, and the salvation of the elect requires that the Lord Jesus is as equally “man” as he who sinned in the Garden of Eden (v. 21-22); He is the head and representative of redeemed mankind (v. 23); He is the human Messiah (v. 24-26), who, as “man . . . and the son of man,” has been given dominion over the creation (v. 27; Psalm 8:6, 4), and who mediates the rule of God over all the universe and puts “all things under his feet” (v. 25; Psalm 8:6-8) until the time when all evil is finally and utterly destroyed and the eternal state commences (v. 28). As God, the Son reigns unchangeably from eternity past to eternity future (Hebrews 1:8) in perfect equality with the Father and the Holy Spirit; as the incarnate Mediator He was given a special rulership by God the Father (Psalm 110:1), but He will remain eternally subordinate to the One who bestowed this mediatorial kingdom upon Him. The Christ’s enemies will be “put down” (v. 24) or “destroyed” (v. 26), because all things must be “subject” or “subdued” to Him, that is, brought into their proper place, orderly arranged in submission to God’s government. Perfect harmony and union of redemed man and universe with God cannot take place until the destruction of all enemies; until then the perfect arrangement of the Son under God cannot take place, not because of an unwillingness on the part of the Messiah to be under the Father, but because the realm Christ is to bring in subjection to God is not in perfect order and submission. The Son will forever be in His proper place in God’s government; as God, He is equal to the Father and consubstantial with Him; as man, He is consubstantial with humanity, and the one who unites the chosen to God through His redemptive work in human nature; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 demonstrates that this perfect harmony of the resurrected elect with the Triune God through the incarnate Son will be the the blessed state of eternity future. All things will be in harmony in the eternal state. All redeemed humanity and the redeemed creation (which is under man, and so ultimately under the Man of men, the Messiah, as in Psalm 8) will be subject in He who is Son of God and Son of Man to the one Triune God, who will reign eternally as the “all in all.”
This mediatorial rule of Christ as the God-man is explicated elsewhere in Scripture as well. Hebrews 2:5-17 indicates that The Divine-human Messiah will have the world to come put in subjection to Him (v. 5). At this time, the Son of Man is exalted greatly, having received current dominion at His ascension (1 Peter 3:22), especially over the church (Ephesians 1:20-23), and the certain prospect of future absolute rule over all, but all creation it is not at this time completely subjected to Him (v. 6-9; Psalm 8:4-6). Those who are united by faith to the Theanthropos, He who assumed a completely human nature to redeem them by His substitutionary death, (v. 16-17) will partake of His glory (v. 10-15), being united to God through Him who is both God and man and made sons of God through Christ, the Captain of their salvation (v. 10). It is a shame that Arians, in ignorance of or hostility to the sublime and glorious beauty of the mediatorial kingdom of the Son as the God-man and the wonderful union the elect enjoy with Him and with the the Triune God through Him, will desecrate 1 Corinthians 15:28 to support their idolatry.
Even if the affirmation of 1 Corinthians 15:28 that “the Son also himself [shall] be subject unto him that put all things under him” referred to the Divine nature of God the Son (which it certainly does not), rather than to Him as the Mediator and God-man, the Arian dogma that the Son is a creature, a part of the created order, and therefore infinitely inferior in nature to His Father, would not be established. The word translated be subject in the verse, hupotasso, is “a Greek military term meaning ‘to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader.’ In non-military use, it was ‘a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.’” The verb is defined as, in the active voice, “to cause to be in a submissive relationship,” and in the passive voice employed in 1 Corinthians 15:28, to “become subject . . . subject oneself, be subjected or subordinated, obey” (BDAG); these considerations suit a reference to an economic subordination of role, rather than an ontological subordination of being, in 1 Corinthians 15:28. The etymological deriviation of the word from the verb tasso, “to bring about an order of things by arranging, arrange, put in place” (BDAG), which in combination with hupo (“under”) gives a sense of “to arrange under,” also supports the idea of economic subordination rather than inferiority of being. Conclusively, hupotasso is used many times elsewhere in Scripture for a subordination of role, one generally voluntary, of entities not at all inferior in being to those to whom they submit. Even if one granted the invalid Arian assumption that the question of the essential nature of the Son was in view in 1 Corinthians 15:28, nothing in the Greek word employed requires the affirmation of the Unitarian dogma of His intrinsic inferiority of being—only a submission in role would be supported. The verse provides no support whatever for Arianism.
Jesus Christ is not just fully God, but also fully Man—this is orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, a belief that Trinitarians properly recognize is essential to man’s salvation. Christ’s genuine humanity is clearly proven in Scripture, and is rejoiced in by Trinitarians. Unitarian attempts to deny the Trinity with verses that deal with the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 13:32; Hebrews 5:8; Revelation 1:1; John 14:28; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 15:28) entirely miss the point.
4.) Miscellaneous Unitarian arguments
Unitarians advance a number of allegedly Biblical arguments that cannot be neatly classified underneath the first three headings. Those that, on the surface, seem the most plausible argue that the Son was the first created being, based on Colossians 1:15; Revelation 3:14; and Proverbs 8:22. Associated with the argument from Proverbs 8:22 is the Unitarian affirmation that the designation of Christ as the “only-begotten” proves His status as a creature. Finally, Arians argue that Jesus was only “a god” based on John 10:34-36 and related texts. If these Unitarian arguments fail to establish their doctrine of the Person of Christ, they have no even apparently formidable Biblical attempts left, and their Christological objections to the Trinity are found to be without merit.
Colossians 1:15b calls the Lord Jesus Christ “the firstborn of every creature.” Commenting on this, Arians argue:
Jesus had an existence in heaven before coming to the earth. But was it as one of the persons in an almighty, eternal triune Godhead? No, for the Bible plainly states that in his prehuman existence, Jesus was a created spirit being, just as angels were spirit beings created by God. Neither the angels nor Jesus had existed before their creation. . . . Having been created by God, Jesus is in a secondary position in time, power, and knowledge. . . . Jesus, in his prehuman existence, was “the first-born of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15) . . . Yes, Jesus was created by God as the beginning of God’s invisible creations.
Is the title “firstborn” for Christ equivalent to “first-created,” thereby proving that the first thing the Father created was the Son? Since, immediately after calling the Lord Jesus “firstborn,” Paul declares that “by him [the Son of God] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16-17), one immediately suspects that “firstborn” is no equivalent to “first-created.” Paul would hardly in the same sentence affirm that Christ was Himself created, then, in an absolute contradiction, declare that “by him were all things created . . . all things were created by him” (v. 16; cf. John 1:3). Also, since creation exists to please God (Revelation 4:11), unless Jesus Christ is God, all things could not be created “for him” (v. 16), nor could “all” be created “for him” if He was Himself created! Nor could the Son be before all created things (v. 17a), nor could He sustain all creation (v. 17b), nor be distinguished from “all things” (v. 20), if He was Himself a created thing. The phrases immediately following the ascription of the title “firstborn” to Christ make it impossible to contend that the word is a synonym for “first-created.” Indeed, the very reason He is firstborn (v. 15) is that He is not created, but the Creator (v. 16-17)! Furthermore, the Greek language has a specific word for “first-created” (protoktistos); why would Paul use “firstborn” (prototokos) instead, if he really wished to convey the idea that the Son was the first creature God made out of nothing? Both the context of Colossians 1:15b, and the word choice itself in the passage, demonstrate the bankrupcy of the the Unitarian argument from “firstborn.”
In Israel, “the right of the firstborn” was “a double portion” of the inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17); the firstborn son had privileges over his siblings. The “firstborn,” as “the chief of all [his household’s] strength” (Psalm 105:36; 78:51), possessed “the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power” (Genesis 49:3). The firstborn son of the monarch inherited the kingdom of Israel (1 Chronicles 3:10ff.; 2 Chronicles 21:3; cf. 2 Kings 3:27), except in the extraordinary situation where God by a specific revelation instructed otherwise (1 Chronicles 3:5; 28:5) and transferred the authority of the firstborn. Scripture employs the word firstborn to refer to one who is first in rank, in a position of special authority, exaltation, or blessing, rather than using the word for birth order only. The uses of the word outside of the realm of human and animal birth to refer to things that are in a heightened, exalted, or extreme state, rather than the first appearance of such things temporally, supports this fact (Isaiah 14:30; Job 18:30). Further evidence comes from Jacob’s receipt of the firstborn position and the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant over his elder brother Esau (Genesis 25:23, 31-34; 27:29, 36-37; Romans 9:11-13), Ephraim’s receiving the position of firstborn and the position of one “greater” than the older Manasseh (Genesis 48:14-20; Deuteronomy 33:17), and Joseph’s receiving firstborn status over his elder brother Reuben (Genesis 49:3-4, 22-26; cf. 48:5; 1 Chronicles 5:1). 1 Chronicles 26:10 makes the connection between rule and firstborn status explicit: “Hosah, of the children of Merai, had sons; [of which] Simri [was] the chief, (for though he was not the firstborn [in time], yet his father made him the chief.” Deuteronomy 21:16 indicates that a father practicing polygamy was not to, of his own volition, choose to “make [the son of a preferred wife] firstborn” and so give the favored child greater inheritance rights. A father obviously could not change the physical order in which children were born to make another child the firstborn, but a position, and rights, can be transferred. Also, Jehovah, who is sovereign over all nations (Deuteronomy 4:19; Psalm 22:28; 86:9), had brought great numbers of them into existence for many centuries before He founded Israel (Genesis 10)—nevertheless, He said, “Israel is . . . my firstborn” (Exodus 4:22; cf. Jeremiah 31:9), because of the special position and privilege bestowed on her as “a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2). Such uses provides helpful Biblical background to the designation of the Son of God as “firstborn.”
The word “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15, rather than teaching that the Son was part of creation, emphasizes His authority over the created order. The term signifies “pertaining to existing superior to all else of the same or related class—‘superior to, above all” (LN), or “to having special status associated with a firstborn . . . [derived from] the special status enjoyed by a firstborn son as heir apparent in Israel” (BDAG; cf. Deuteronomy 21:17). Rather than affirming that the Son of God is part of the created order, the title firstborn signifies his authority (cf. Romans 8:29; Revelation 1:5) over the entire creation, as the Creator Himself (cf. Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). He is “firstborn . . . that in all things he might have the preeminance” (Colossians 1:18). He is worshipped as God because He is the firstborn, the one with absolute authority over all created beings (Hebrews 1:6).
The Messianic prophecy that Christ would be the “firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27) should control our understanding of “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15, as Paul evidently refers to this Old Testament text. Psalm 89:27 indicates that the Messiah would have supreme authority over creation, being exalted above all subordinate rulers, including “the kings of the earth.” There is absolutely nothing in the psalm to validate the Unitarian contention that “firstborn” means that the Messiah was the first being God created. On the contrary, Psalm 89:27 validates His Lordship and true Divinity.
When Arians argue that Christ was created because He is called “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15, they must, among other serious difficulties, overlook the lexical distinction between the Greek words “firstborn” and “first-created,” the overwhelming contextual evidence that the Son is Creator, not a creature, the significance of firstborn as a position of authority in both the Old and New Testaments, and the prophecy of the Messiah as firstborn in Psalm 89:27. An accurate understanding of the Lord Jesus as the firstborn over the creation powerfully validates His Deity, rather than denying it.
A related objection by Arians to the Deity of Christ concerns His status as the only-begotten Son. Interestingly, many modern modalists also reject the Biblical doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ and His status as eternally begotten. Unitarians argue:
The Bible calls Jesus the “only-begotten Son” of God. . . . [H]ow can a person be a son and at the same time be as old as his father? Trinitarians claim that in the case of Jesus, “only-begotten” is not the same as the dictionary definition of “begetting,” which is “to procreate as the father.” . . . They say that in Jesus’ case it means “the sense of unoriginated relationship,” a sort of only son relationship without the begetting. . . . Does that sound logical to you? Can a man father a son without begetting him? . . . Jesus said that he had a prehuman existence, having been created by God as the beginning of God’s invisible creations. . . . So Jesus, the only-begotten Son, had a beginning to his life. And Almighty God can rightly be called his Begetter, or Father, in the same sense that an earthly father . . . begets a son. . . . Hence, when the Bible speaks of God as the “Father” of Jesus, it means what it says—that they are two separate individuals. God is the senior. Jesus is the junior—in time, position, power, and knowledge.
This Unitarian rhetoric may be divided into two main facets: 1.) Human fathers are older than their sons, so God the Father must be older that His Son, and “only begotten” must, for Christ, mean “created” (“God can be called [the Son’s] Begetter, or Father, in the same sense that an earthly father begets a son.”). 2.) Misrepresentation and ridicule of the Trinitarian doctrine of eternal generation (“Not the same as the dictionary definition of begetting . . . in Jesus’ case [Trinitarians say] it means . . . a sort of only son relationship without the begetting. . . . Does that sound logical to you?”) along with standard misrepresentations of the Trinity (such as modalism: “the [Father and the Son] are two [and] separate” is supposed to refute the Trinity). The fact that human fathers are older than their sons, combined with the misrepresentation and ridicule, is supposed to establish the Arian doctrine (which is not really positively presented; it is essentially assumed as true once the Trinitarian position has been attacked) that the Son was “created by God as the beginning of God’s invisible creations,” so that the Father created the Son, and then the Son created everything else. Arians use the word only begotten to establish that “there was a time when [the Son] was not; and: he was not before he was made; and: he was made out of nothing, or out of another substance or thing.”
The Biblical, Trinitarian doctrine that “the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son” has already been exposited and established in an earlier section of this composition. At this point, the problems with the Arian attack, and with the Arian alternative that only begotten means that the Son was created by the Father, will be the focus of analysis.
Unitarians contend that their equation of only begotten with created is taking language literally. Whether or not they know what the Trinitarian doctrine is, the Unitarian assertion is that eternal generation, as affirmed by Trinitarians, is not literal, and therefore is false. However, Arians themselves, when they think of God, do not “literally” press “only begotten” as “to procreate as Father.” Their argument would assist them only if they embraced the revolting notions of Greek and Roman paganism, and affirmed that the Biblical God was Father of the Son because He was not a Spirit (John 4:24; Luke 24:39), but had a fleshly body, enabling him to have sexual relations with a mother god, who then become pregnant and gave birth some time later to a little baby son god. Human children are begotten through marital relations and the union of a sperm and an egg, a very different concept than the Unitarian dogma that the Father created the Son out of nothing. The Arian contention of literalness also breaks down since human fathers do not actually create anything—creation is a work of God alone (Isaiah 44:24)—so human begetting is hardly identical to the alleged creation of the Son by God. Not only is the Arian “literal” comparison of human relationships to the relation between the Father and the Son not literal, it is very selective. Human fathers are older than human sons, so God the Father must have created His Son out of nothing in time, Arians contend—although this conclusion is never drawn or implied in Scripture—for this is taking Father and Son “literally.” Why not press “literal” human relationships in other ways as well? Human fathers have their own fathers—so why not “prove” through this “literal” use of the language of Father for God that there is a grandfather god that created God the Father? Why not prove that, since human fathers have aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, toddlers, teenagers, and all sorts of other relatives, that there is a big family of gods, from the Aunt Matilda god to the Uncle Joe god? Certainly the word only begotten does not justify the Unitarian’s selectively seeking to drag the transcendent, high, and holy mystery of the personal relations between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit down to the earthly level of human relationships.
There are very serious exegetical problems with the Unitarian affirmation that beget is a synonym with create, so that the Son’s being begotten proves His creation out of nothing. First, beget and create are simply different words with different significations. Second, Hebrews 1:5 asks, “unto which of the angels said [the Father] at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?” The dogma that beget means create requires Unitarians to affirm one of two impossible consequences. One way, on Arian presuppositions, that Paul could ask the question in Hebrews 1:5 would be if the Father did not create or beget the angels—in which case they are not “sons of God” because the Father created them. If the Father did not create the angels, then Christ created the angles—and thus angels are only “sons of God” if Christ is God, which is the end of Unitarianism. Alternatively, Unitarians could answer the question of Hebrews 1:5, “why, the Father could call all the angels “sons” in this way, for He has begotten or created every one of them.” They then must disembowel the context of Hebrews 1:5 and turn the verse into nonsense. Third, if Arians wish to make the two synonyms, the only-begotten Son would become, not a “created” Son only, but the “only-created” Son. Arians would thus, in their attempt to support the unique Deity of the Father, be driven to the position that He only created the Son, while the Son created everything else—they must rob God of the uniquely Divine work of creation (as they must the uniquely Divine prerogative of worship, and even the title God!) and give it to one they affirm is a creature.
No verse whatever affirms or hints that God only created one thing, while many verses state plainly that “God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), “every living creature” (Genesis 1:21), “man” (Genesis 1:27), and “all things” (Revelation 4:11; 10:6; Genesis 2:3 + Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:5; Mark 13:19; etc.). No secondary, non-Divine agency was involved: “God himself . . . created . . . formed . . . made . . . [and] established” (Isaiah 45:18) the created order. If the use of such an abundance of synonymns, both here and elsewhere throughout the Bible, does not prove to the Arian that God alone is, in every sense, the Creator, one wonders what the Holy Spirit could have written in the Bible that would convince him. When Unitarians are driven to the position that the Father created only one thing, they should be asked, “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, [is] the Creator” (Isaiah 40:28)? “Hath not one God created us” (Malachi 2:10)?
Furthermore, to equate only begotten with only-created requires Arians to abandon their contention that Christ is called Son for the same reason that the unfallen angels, and Adam, are called sons of God, namely, that they were created by God—for if Christ is Son because He was created, and the angels and Adam are sons of God because they were created, there are myriads upon myriads of beings in heaven whose existence contradicts the idea that the Son was the only-created Son. To reply that only-created really means something like only-directly-created (and everything else was indirectly created), can by no stretch of language be considered a “literal” interpretation of only begotten, even apart from the fact that beget does not mean create and God alone is the sole Creator of all things.
Nobody could honestly read the gospels and conclude that Christ’s “my Father” signified “my Creator,” or anything at all similar to it. The apostle John explains that when the Lord Jesus “said . . . that God was his Father, [He was] making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). His disciples worshipped Him because He was the Son of God (Matthew 14:33). As human fathers and sons possess an identical and equal human nature, so the Lord Jesus is the Son of God in that He possesses the Divine nature in absolute equality with His Father—and since there is only one God and thus the Divine nature is necessarily unitary, His Sonship and equality as Deity requires His consubstantiality with the Father. The radical distinction between Christ’s ontological Sonship, His Sonship of nature and being, and the adoptive sonship of believers is apparent in the careful Biblical distinction between Christ’s “my Father” and the “our” or “your Father” of the redeemed. The Lord Jesus never equates His Sonship with that of God’s people by uniting Himself with them in a common “our Father.” Believers are referred to in the plural as “sons of God” by adoption (Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5), and an individual believer is a “son of God.” In contrast, the Lord Jesus is the Son of God, the Person of the Son in the Trinity, the unique beloved of the Father, and is so by nature, as a consequence of of His eternal generation. As the only begotten Son (Hebrews 1:5), He possesses the entire Divine nature (Hebrews 1:3), and is Himself worshipped (Hebrews 1:6) as Jehovah, the true God (Hebrews 1:8).
The eternal generation of the Person of the Son by the Person of the Father is attested Scripturally through multiple strands of evidence. First, a unique verb form, not used for human generation, is used for the begetting of the Son by the Father in the New Testament. Second, the fact that both the Father and the Son are equally eternal and unchanging requires that their relation must also be eternal; the Son existed in glory with the Father before the creation of any finite beings (John 17:1, 5). The Arian position requires that God was not always the Father, for if there was a time when He had no Son, He was not then Father. And if both Father and Son are eternal, what is their relation, if the one does not beget, and the other is not begotten? Christ was the Son before He entered the world (John 3:16); before He was sent (1 John 4:9; Romans 8:3); and from “everlasting” (Micah 5:2). Third, the noun monogenes, “only-begotten,” supports the doctrine of eternal generation. Since he who is begotten possesses the same nature as he who begets, the Son possesses the entire Divine nature as a consequence of being begotten by the Father. Since God is one, the Divine nature is necessarily one, so the Son is one in essence with the Father on account of being begotten by Him. Since the Divine nature is also necessarily eternal, the Son is as eternal as the Father, and His begetting must express His eternal relation to His Father.
Another severe problem for the Arian contention that only begotten does not teach the Trinitarian doctrine of eternal generation, but means that the Son was the first created being, is that no verse connects His begetting and the beginning of creation. Christ was in a particular manner declared or set forth as the Son of God at His incarnation (Luke 1:35), His baptism (Matthew 3:17), His transfiguration (Matthew 17:5) and His resurrection (Acts 13:35; Romans 1:4). His Sonship is mentioned in conjunction with other events and Scriptural declarations (Psalm 2:7; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5). The Lord Jesus is repeatedly called “only begotten” (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). The copious references to the Son’s being begotten on many occasions and in connection with various acts of God is natural if He is indeed eternally generated, as Trinitarianism affirms—since the Son’s “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2), the Father’s “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5) is true of any and every day, as it has been true from eternity past and will be true for the eternity to come. Christ’s many works manifest that He is in truth the eternally begotten Son. However, not one verse connects the Son’s generation with the beginning of the creation of the world. If only begotten really meant created, only-created, first-created, or some other similar Arian conception, one would expect that all—or at least a large number—or at least a handful—or certainly at least one verse would connect His being begotten with the beginning of creation, and affirm that His creation out of nothing at the beginning of time was the reason He is denominated only begotten. However, no verse like this is found in Scripture. Unitarians, having no exegetical basis for their contention, simply declare out of nothing that the word only begotten means that the Son was the first created being.
Unitarians attempt to use Hebrews 11:17 to support their contention that only begotten establishes that Christ is a created being. They ask, “why does the Bible use the very same Greek word for ‘only-begotten’ (as Vine admits without any explanation) to describe the relationship of Isaac to Abraham? Hebrews 11:17 speaks of Isaac as Abraham’s ‘only-begotten son.’ There can be no question that in Isaac’s case, he was only-begotten in the normal sense, not equal in time or position to his father.” However, this verse does not in any wise establish the Arian contention. The union and process that fathers and mothers are involved in to produce sons is a very different than the alleged creation of the Son out of nothing by the Father, a Spirit without a body or parts. The use of “only-begotten” for Isaac certainly does not mean that Abraham usurped the uniquely Divine role of Creator and formed Isaac out of nothing, so that he was Abraham’s “only-created.” One notes that the Arian quotation affirms that Isaac was not “equal in time or position” to Abraham, but leaves out “nature,” the essential point in question, because Isaac was entirely and absolutely equal in his humanity to Abraham. All the sons of Adam are equally human, receiving their humanity by the very act of generation from their fathers. Every time monogenes is used in Scripture for relations besides that of God the Father and God the Son, an absolute equality of nature is involved. Indeed, the equality of nature of the one begotten to the one who begets is the entire point in question with the use of the word only begotten—and the fact that the Lord Jesus is indeed true Son of the Father, as the Father’s only begotten, establishes the Son’s equality of nature. The “normal sense” of only begotten establishes the Son’s absolute Deity—the Arians who try to change the word to only-directly-created or some other such nonsense are the ones who refuse to accept the true and plain signification of the term.
The Arian argument from Hebrews 11:17 thus requires one to ignore the equality of nature that is the central idea of the word only begotten. It reduces to “Abraham was born before Isaac was, so Jesus Christ is not God because He was begotten.” It is very obvious that in human generation fathers are older than their sons, but this does not help the Unitarian unless he now wishes to affirm that the Greek only begotten really means younger instead of only-created. The fact that human fathers are older than their children is a necessary consequence of human nature, which is very incompletely comparable to the Divine nature. Since human nature is finite, weak and limited, changeable, and bound by time, the human nature communicated to children by the temporal begetting of their parents is finite, weak and limited, changeable, and time-bound; for this reason, human children are younger than their parents. Since the Son of God is begotten eternally by the Father, the Divine nature communicated to Him is necessarily eternal, omnipotent, self-existent, and immutable, possessing all the Divine attributes of His Father. Furthermore, since there is of necessity but one Divine nature and God is one (Galatians 3:20), the communication of the Divine nature to the Son by the Father requires the consubstantiality of the Begotten with the Begetter. Besides, the nature of the Son’s begetting is a high and holy mystery beyond human comprehension. All the Arians wish to derive from Hebrews 11:17 stems from the requirements of human nature, and thus is inapplicable to a generation by God. Arians who wish to confound the human processes by which babies are born with the Father’s begetting of His Son should also argue that the declarations that God rests (Genesis 2:3), remembers (Exodus 2:24), repents (1 Samuel 15:35), bows down His ear (Psalm 31:2), and causes men to rest under the shadow of His wings (Psalm 36:7) prove that absurdities that God gets tired, is forgetful, is a sinner, is hard of hearing, and has feathers.
The Unitarian contention on Hebrews 11:17 is entirely unfounded. What, then, is the contextual reason that Isaac is called Abraham’s only begotten in the verse? First, Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac (Hebrews 11:17-19; Genesis 22) is a Biblical figure (imperfect, of course, as are all Old Testament types and figures) of God the Father’s offering up of His own Son for the sins of the world. Isaac is called only begotten because he pictures the Father’s true only begotten Son. But how does this designation for Isaac fit at all—did not Abraham also beget Ishmael (Genesis 16:16), who was born before Isaac and was to live for many years after Isaac’s birth? Did not Abraham beget many sons with Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2)? How then can Isaac be Abraham’s “only son” (Genesis 22:2, 12, 16)? Isaac’s unique relation to Abraham as the only child of Sarah, one who was begotten differently than Abraham’s other sons through miraculous intervention (Genesis 18:10-14; 21:1-8), and one who was the heir of the covenant promises (Genesis 17:19-21), explains Isaac’s receipt of the only begotten title. In this Isaac was a fit picture of the Son of God, who bears an absolutely unique relation to His Father as eternally begotten of Him and one in essence with Him, and, incarnate, is the One in whom all the “all the promises of God . . . are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Just about the only serious attempt a Unitarian could make to find a Biblical basis for the contention that the Son was the first created being as the only begotten would rest upon Proverbs 8:22, which, in the LXX, reads, “The Lord made [or “created”] me [Wisdom] the beginning of his ways for his works.” Since Proverbs eight speaks of the Divine wisdom, and Christ is the Wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24; cf. Colossians 2:2-3), Proverbs 8:22 is set forth as proof that the Son was begotten or (as Arians contend) created as the first (and only) being made by the Father Himself.
This Arian attempt to support the doctrine of the Son’s creation is demolished by the fact that the Hebrew text simply does not say “created,” as the Greek translation does, but “possessed,” qanah. No Hebrew manuscript reads “created” (bara) in Proverbs 8:22. The semantic range of qanah in the OT includes “acquire,” “buy,” and “possess,” but it never means “create” in any of its 85 appearances in 75 OT verses. It is possible that the rather unusual mistranslation of Proverbs 8:22 in current copies of the LXX is a scribal error arising from Sirach 24:9 in the Apocrypha, where wisdom, the personified representation of “the book of the covenant of the most high God, even the law which Moses commanded for an heritage unto the congregations of Jacob” (24:23), said “[God] created me from the beginning before the world, and I shall never fail.” Origen’s Hexapla gives strong evidence for the Hebrew “possessed” instead of “created.” The Greek word ektesato, the correct translation for the Hebrew qanah, “possessed,” is the translation given by the Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotian, and therefore appears in every column of the Hexapla except that for that of the Seventy. Origen also takes the unusual step of commenting on the LXX translation ektise, “created,” that the Hebrew has qanah, supporting the view that he also knew that create was a mistranslation in the LXX of his day. The inspired text of Scripture simply does not say that the Son was “created” in Proverbs 8:22.
Proverbs eight actually supports the doctrine of the eternal existence and the eternal generation of the Son in the strongest manner. The type of the Son as Wisdom makes this plain. Who can imagine that God was not always wise, that His Wisdom was not always with Him? In eternity past the Father did not have any wisdom? The specific declarations in Proverbs 8:22-31 powerfully manifest the Son’s eternality. He was already “possessed” by the Father “in the beginning of his way, before his works of old” (v. 22)—so the Son belonged to the Father, as the Father did to the Son, and the Spirit to each, as their precious possession and treasure, from eternity. The Son is “from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was” (v. 23). He was with the Father “before the mountains were settled,” and “before the hills . . .while as yet he had not made the earth” (v. 25-26), just as God exists “before the mountains were brought forth, or ever [He] formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2). When there were “no depths . . . no fountains . . . fields . . . world . . . heavens . . . clouds . . . sea . . . foundations of the earth” (v. 24-29), then the Son testifies that He was “by him [the Father], as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him” (v. 30). Proverbs eight testifies of this ineffable joy, delight, and love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father (cf. John 17:24), and their joy in the redemption of the elect (Proverbs 8:31; cf. John 17:3, 6; Ephesians 1:4).
In the eternity past spoken of in Proverbs eight, the Son was begotten, or “brought forth” (v. 24, 25). The verb in this Hebrew tense signifies “to be brought forth through labour pains.” Psalm 51:5a and Job 15:7b, the only other comparable references, both also speak of the begetting or bearing process. The Son’s eternal existence as God, and His eternal generation by the Father, are beautifully taught in Proverbs eight. He is by no means a creature, a temporal creation of the Father, but His “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2)—from before the origin of time, the Son existed (Isaiah 48:16); from all eternity He has been, and is being now, and will be to all eternity future, begotten by the Father.
The Unitarian dogma that only-begotten means created runs into various other problems as well. It requires that God the Father, Jehovah, who “changeth not” (Malachi 3:6), was not always Father—indeed, for all of eternity past, until He supposedly decided to create the Son, He was not the Father. Furthermore, contrary to the Biblical, Trinitarian doctrine, the Arian god had nobody “rejoicing always before him” (Proverbs 8:30), but was isolated and solitary, with no ability to exercise love or engage in communion. He needed to create the world in order to manifest these attributes. In contrast, the Trinitarian God is entirely self-sufficient, able to fully exercise His love in the everlasting communion among the Father, Son, and Spirit.
The fact that the Son is the Father’s only begotten does nothing to advance the Arian dogma that Christ is a creature. On the contrary, it firmly fixes the absolute and equal Deity of the Son of God with His Father, and thus strongly favors the classical doctrine of the Trinity.
Revelation 3:14 is used by Unitarians to affirm that the Son was the first creature made by the Father. They argue,
The Bible plainly states that in his prehuman existence, Jesus was a created spirit being, just as angels were spirit beings created by God. Neither the angels nor Jesus had existed before their creation. Jesus, in his prehuman existence, was . . . “the beginning of God’s creation” (Revelation 3:14) . . . Yes, Jesus was created by God as the beginning of God’s invisible creations.
Thus, Arians use the reference to Christ as “the beginning of the creation of God” to establish their dogma that the Son was the first being created out of nothing by the true God. They equate “beginning” with the passive “one begun,” and affirm that this phrase is equivalent to “the first creature created by God,” thus supporting Unitarianism. However, Arians must overlook the context of this statement, the lexical definitions of the word here rendered “beginning,” the other uses of this word in Scripture, the background of the Greek Old Testament, and the evidence of ancient Christian literature to come to their conclusion.
The context of the declaration of the Son of God to the church at Laodicea plainly affirms His Deity. Immediately after Revelation 3:14, Christ states, “I know thy works” (3:15). For Christ to know all the works of all the members of the church at Laodicea, and the other churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3 (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8) indicates His omniscience. The Lord Jesus states, “I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:23)—but searching and knowing the heart is a work that pertains to Jehovah alone (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Chronicles 28:9; 29:17; 2 Chronicles 6:30; Psalm 7:9; 44:21; Jeremiah 11:20; 17:10; 20:10, 12; Acts 1:24; Romans 8:27; Hebrews 4:13), just as is the work of being Judge of all men (Psalm 62:12; Romans 2:5-11; 14:12; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 20:12). It would be very strange if the Lord Jesus were to deny His Deity in Revelation 3:14, but then affirm it in the very next verse. Furthermore, Christ’s declaration in Revelation 3:19, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” also indicates His nature as Jehovah, for the Lord Jesus alludes to the many other Scriptural passages that affirm that the one God is the loving Chastener of His people (Deuteronomy 8:5; 2 Samuel 7:14; Job 5:17; Psalm 6:1; 29:11; 94:10; Proverbs 3:11-12; Jeremiah 2:30; 7:28; 10:28; 30:11; 31:18; Zephaniah 3:2; 1 Corinthians 11:32; Hebrews 12:5-9). Furthermore, for Christ to be in the presence of and fellowship with all those who seek Him (Revelation 3:20) requires His Deity. No Being that is not omnipresent and omniscient can know about and commune with “any man” worldwide who seeks for His fellowship. Since Jesus Christ affirms His Deity (at least) three times in His message to the church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:15, 19, 20), a Unitarian who takes Revelation 3:14 as an affirmation that Christ is a creature makes the Lord repeatedly contradict Himself.
Greek lexica demonstrate that arche, “beginning” in Revelation 3:14, affirms that Christ is the origin or source of the creation, not the first created being. The Greek word in this verse means “one who or that which constitutes an initial cause—‘first cause, origin,’” or “beginning, origin . . . one with whom a process begins, beginning . . . the first cause, the beginning,” or “beginning, origin . . . source,” or “beginning, origin . . . the person . . . that commences . . . that by which anything begins to be, the origin, the active cause.” The Arian who uses Revelation 3:14 to prove his Christological dogma must prove that “beginning” does not mean “origin,” a common definition of the word according to all standard Greek lexica. The phrase “the beginning of the creation of God” is an objective genitive followed by a subjective genitive, signifying “the beginner/originator of God’s creation.” Revelation 3:14, rather than teaching that the Lord Jesus is a creature, actually strongly affirms His Deity (in accordance with the context of Revelation 3:14-22) as the Creator.
The context of the other uses of arche in the book of Revelation very strongly supports a signification of “beginning” in the sense of orgin or source, rather than the Unitarian interpretation of “one begun,” in Revelation 3:14. The word appears in three other verses in the Revelation (1:8; 21:6; 22:13). In Revelation 1:8, Christ, the speaker (see v. 7, 17-18), declares “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning [arche] and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” The status of arche, through its connection with the titles of Alpha and Omega, the fact that He who has this title is, and was, and is to come, and the affirmation that He who is these things is “the Almighty,” clearly manifests that Christ is “the beginning” in the sense that He is the Creator or source of all. A creature might be the “beta,” but no creature is the “Alpha and Omega,” nor the self-existent He who “is,” nor “the Almighty.” In Revelation 21:6, God states that He is “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” Here again “the beginning” is the Originator or Beginner of all, not one who is Himself begun or originated. In Revelation 22:12-13, the Son says, “I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” Here again “the beginning” is paralleled with being the “Alpha” and “the first.” A creature made by God could be “the second,” but God alone is “the first.” The other uses of “the beginning” in Revelation by no means support the Unitarian affirmation that in Revelation 3:14 Christ is “the beginning” in the sense that He is “one begun.” Rather, Revelation 3:14’s ascription to Christ of the title “the beginning” harmonizes with the other uses of the word arche in the book to reveal the Son as the Creator and Originator of all creation, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the One who always was, who of Himself is, and who always will be, the Almighty.
Not only does a simple word study of arche in Revelation demonstrate that Christ is Beginning in that He is Source and Originator of creation, but the anaphoric article in Revelation 3:14 ties the use of “beginning” back to the use in 1:8, just as the other titles in 3:14 connect back to previous mentions of these titles for Christ. Thus, Greek grammar indicates that Christ is “the beginning” in 3:14 because He is “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, . . . the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).
The fact that the church at Laodicea was familiar with the epistle to the Colossians also contributes to the understanding of the Lord Jesus as “the beginning” in Revelation 3:14. The Colossean church had sent a copy of their Pauline epistle to the nearby Laodicean church (Colossians 4:16). There are definite similarities in terminology in the message to the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:14-22) and the book of Colossians. The Christological declaration in Colossians 1:15ff that the Lord Jesus Christ is the firstborn, the first in rank, over every creature (v. 15) and the beginning (arche, v. 18) because He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (v. 16-17) supports the Trinitarian recognition that Revelation 3:14 teaches that the Son is not a creature but the Originator and Source of creation. In Colossians 1:18, Christ is the arche in the same sense that He is arche in the four uses in the book of Revelation (1:8; 3:14; 21:6; 22:13). As the Creator and Sustainer (Colossians 1:16-17) who is over every creature (Colossians 1:15), He is the Beginning (Colossians 1:18), the Source or Origin of the entire created order and all things whatsoever (v. 18c). The Lord Jesus, who is also the source, founder, sustainer (John 1:35-37; 3:29; Matthew 16:18), and life-giver for the church, is of right her head and ruler (v. 18a-b). As the source and origin and thus the ruler of all, He is the first in rank, the firstborn, over the dead (v. 18d), and possesses “in all things . . . the preeminence” (v. 18e). The Arian dogma that Christ is arche as the first created being is impossible in Colossians 1:18. It is plainly negated in v.16-17, which shows the Son is the Creator, not a creature. Only God has the preeminence in all things (v. 18e; Isaiah 48:11). No creature, of whatever greatness, could do what Christ does for the church, or be at all an effective head of every one of His assemblies worldwide. No creature could have all fulness (Colossians 1:19) dwell in Him, especially not the “fulness of the Godhead” (Colossians 2:9). The fact that the church at Laodicea would have been familiar with the designation of Christ as Beginning, in the sense that He was true God, Origin and Source of all, in Colossians 1:18, supports the same sense in Revelation 3:14. The comparison of the message to Laodicea and to Colossae further demonstrates the anti-contextual nature of the Arian reading of Revelation 3:14.
Amazingly, Arians argue that the word “beginning” in Revelation 3:14 “cannot rightly be interpreted to mean that Jesus was the ‘beginner’ of God’s creation . . . [in light of the fact that] John uses various forms of the Greek word [arche] more than 20 times, and these always have the common [anti-Trinitarian] meaning . . . Jesus was created by God as the beginning of God’s invisible creations.” The other uses of arche in the book of Revelation, inspired by God through the apostle John, have already been analyzed and been shown to powerfully verify that Revelation 3:14 teaches that Christ originates creation, so much so that the dishonesty of claiming Johannine usage in support of the Unitarian position on Revelation 3:14 is blatant. The Unitarian claim also runs afoul of the rest of John’s writings. John’s gospel affirms that the Son of God already “was,” already existed, “in the beginning [arche]” (John 1:1, 2), so He existed before all time-bound beings and is eternal. 1 John 1:1 likewise affirms that the Son already “was” from all eternity and thus predates all temporal “beginning.” 1 John 2:13-14 twice calls the Son of God the One who is “from the beginning,” again identifying Him as the eternal God. John 6:64 likewise employs arche to affirm the eternal existence of the Lord Jesus by indicating that He knew from before the start of creation who the elect and non-elect were—obviously He could only have knowledge from eternity if He existed from that time. To conclude that John’s use of arche in some way supports Arianism is wildly inaccurate.
The uses of this common word elsewhere in the New Testament also demonstrates that Unitarians have greatly overreached in their attempt to find support for their dogma in Revelation 3:14. Hebrews 7:3 teaches that the Son of God “has neither beginning [arche] of days, nor end of life.” Although Unitarians say, “So Jesus . . . had a beginning to his life,” the Bible says the Lord Jesus “has neither beginning of days, nor end of life.” Hebrews 1:10, speaking of Christ, declares, “Thou, Lord, in the beginning [arche] hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands.” This passage with arche validates that the Son of God existed as Jehovah before the creation of the world, and is Himself the Creator of all. The New Testament use of arche, “beginning” in Revelation 3:14, provides no support at all for Unitarian dogma.
The Greek Old Testament validates the use of arche as “source” or “origin,” supporting the Trinitarian interpretation of Revelation 3:14. Numerous verses validate this sense of beginning: “For the worshipping of idols not to be named is the beginning [arche], the cause, and the end, of all evil.” “Reason is the beginning [arche] of every work, and counsel precedes every undertaking.” “The fear of the Lord is the beginning [arche] of wisdom.” “For pride is the beginning [arche] of sin, and he that hath it shall pour out abomination.” “For the devising of idols was the beginning [arche] of spiritual fornication, and the invention of them the corruption of life.” Furthermore, God, in language very similar to that of the book of Revelation, is explicitly called arche in connection with His character as the self-existent I AM: “Who has wrought and done these things? He has called it who called it from the generations of old; I God, the first [arche] and to all futurity, I AM” (Isaiah 41:4). The Greek Old Testament background for the use of arche in Revelation 3:14 does not help the Arians.
Instances of arche as source or origin are also found in apostolic patristic writers who are almost contemporary with the composition of the book of the Revelation: “Flee from divisions, as the beginning [arche] of evils.” “The love of money is the beginning [arche] of all troubles.” Furthermore, Christ is “he who was from the beginning [arche], who appeared as new yet proved to be old, and is always young as he is born in the hearts of saints. This is the Eternal One, who today is accounted a Son, through whom the church is enriched and grace is unfolded and multiplied among the saints, grace which gives understanding, reveals mysteries, announces seasons, rejoices over the faithful, [and] is given to those who seek.” The apostolic patristic writers affirmed Christ is the “beginning” because He “is the Eternal One.” The use of arche in the most ancient Christian literature supports the Trinitarian contention that Christ is “beginning” as God, not “one begun” as a creature.
In Revelation 3:14, Christ is “the beginning of the creation” because He is the source or origin of all things, the One who began the creation. The phrase establishes the Deity of Christ. The Unitarian who wishes to use the phrase as a proof-text that the Son of God was created must engage in serious mutilation of the Scriptural and Koiné Greek context. The verse fails as an Arian proof-text because of the context of Christ’s declaration to the church at Laodicea, the context of the book of Revelation, the contextual comparison to the epistle to the Colossians, the context of John’s usage of “beginning,” and the context of the word in the rest of the New Testament. It fails because of the lexical significance of the word “beginning [arche].” It fails because of the evidence of the Greek Old Testament and the apostolic patristic writings. It is like all other Arian proof-texts—it miserably fails to undermine the doctrine of the Trinity in any way.
Arianism urges John 10:34-36 as support for the assertion that the Lord Jesus Christ is merely a secondary true god instead of being equal in nature to His Father. The passage reads, “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” Commenting on these words, the Watchtower Society writes:
Does saying that Jesus Christ is “a god” conflict with the Bible’s teaching that there is only one God? No, for at times the Bible employs that term to refer to mighty creatures. Psalm 8:5 reads: “You also proceeded to make him [man] a little less than godlike ones [Hebrew, ´elo·him’],” that is, angels. In Jesus’ defense against the charge of the Jews, that he claimed to be God, he noted that “the Law uses the word gods of those to whom the word of God was addressed,” that is, human judges. (John 10:34, 35, JB; Psalm 82:1-6) Even Satan is called “the god of this system of things” at 2 Corinthians 4:4.
Since the Bible calls humans, angels, even Satan, “gods,” or powerful ones, the superior Jesus in heaven can properly be called “a god.” . . . Jesus has a position far higher than angels, imperfect men, or Satan. Since these are referred to as “gods,” mighty ones, surely Jesus can be and is “a god.”
The Arian argument will be evaluated on two levels. First, the specific argument that in John 10:34-36 Christ denyed that He was the one true God, but instead claimed a secondary divinity, will be evaluated. Second, the affirmation that the use of the plural “gods” simply means “powerful ones” and evidences that it is proper to designate someone powerful as “a god,” so that the Lord Jesus is merely a lesser true god, will be examined.
The context of John 10:34-36 undermines the affirmation that the Lord Jesus was denying His true Deity in the discourse. Immediately before the passage in question, Christ had affirmed His unity of essence with the Father by declaring, “I and my Father are one,” and in so doing calling “God . . . his Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). Immediately afterwards the statements of John 10:34-36, He affirmed His coinherence with the Father, and thus His equality with Him, by affirming that “the Father is in me, and I in him” (John 10:38). So far was Christ from convincing the Jews that He was not true God after His discourse in John 10:34-38 that “therefore they sought again to take him” (John 10:39) and stone Him for blasphemy for what He had spoken. Since, based on His words in John 10:34-38, the Jews “therefore” sought “again” to stone Him “for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (John 10:33), it is clear that His statements were actually an affirmation of His Deity, rather than a denial of it. They were understood so by the Jews Christ was refuting, and the apostle John, recording the encounter under inspiration in the gospel, gives no indication whatsoever that their assumptions were incorrect. On the contrary, the Jews sought to stone Christ for doing “again” what He had done before—claiming, as the apostle John states, that He was “equal with God” (John 5:18).
John 10:34-38 is the Lord Jesus’ response to the charge made by the Jews in 10:33: “The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.” Christ defends both His words (vv. 34-36) and His works (vv. 37-38), which had both been brought up as an issue in the previous verses (vv. 32-33). In v. 34, the Lord quotes Psalm 82:6: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” The Old Testament contains a number of references where judges are called “gods” because they possess authority from God as His representatives, as those sent by Him (cf. Exodus 22:28). Their position as God’s representatives and as those sent by Him enabled them to possess the title gods in a secondary and derived way. As Christ explains, “he called them gods, [because] unto [them] the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Based on this statement, Christ argues a minori ad majus, from the lesser to the greater: since men, specifically the unjust judges of Psalm 82, receive the divine title although it little befits them, how much the more may He who is the true Son of God because of His possession of the Divine essence claim the Divine title with infinitely greater appropriateness? “If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (John 10:35-36). Christ is arguing, “You accuse Me of blasphemy (v. 33). Scripture—which cannot be broken—affirms that human beings were called by Divine title simply because of their commission and position. How much the more may I, the eternal Son of God, who have received a far greater Divine commission, and bear the Divine title by nature, not by grace (as they did), go by my Divine title? Your accusation of blasphemy is ridiculous.” Christ did not in any way deny His true Deity in John 10:34-36. Rather, He employed Psalm 82 to refute the Jewish attempt to call Him a blasphemer and reaffirmed the legitimacy of His claim. John 10:34-36 provides no support whatsoever for the Arian affirmation that the Lord Jesus Christ is some sort of secondary true god created by the Father.
Furthermore, verses that employ the plural form “gods” do not by any means prove that the Lord Jesus Christ is a lesser true god. The references do not establish that “gods” means “powerful ones,” that any group of powerful beings can be called “gods,” that a singular powerful being can be called “a god,” or that the Lord Jesus Christ, because He is (allegedly) a powerful being created by Jehovah, is a true god. On the contrary, Scripture identifies the Son as Jehovah and the One who all “gods” must worship.
First, the fact that idols, false gods that do not exist and have no power whatsoever, are termed gods shows that the word is not synonymous with the phrases powerful ones or mighty ones. Paul wrote, “we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). Idols, false gods, may be “called gods,” but there is, in truth, but one God. Idols “are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: they have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: they have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them” (Psalm 115:4-8). All idolators “serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell” (Deuteronomy 4:28). They “lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship. They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble” (Isaiah 46:6-7). Isaiah powerfully portrays to utter impotence of false gods:
13 The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house. 14 He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it. 14 Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. 16 He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: 17 And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god. 18 They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand. 19 And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree? 20 He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? (Isaiah 44:13-20).
Scripture makes it very plain that the false gods of the heathen are exactly the opposite of “powerful ones.” They cannot see, smell, walk, speak, or act. They cannot get up from one place and go to another one. They cannot deliver anybody. They cannot do anything at all. The fact that false gods cannot do anything at all, but are nothing in this world, demonstrates the fallacy of the Unitarian affirmation that the terms gods and powerful ones are synonyms.
Second, Scripture does not affirm that any group of mighty beings can be called “gods.” As noted above in the discussion of John 10:34-36, judges, because they have been commissioned by God and have authority from Him (Romans 13:1-7; 2 Chronicles 19:6-7; cf. the principle in John 13:20), are in a small number of references called “gods” (Exodus 21:6; 22:8, 28). Likewise, since angels are “sent forth” as “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14), on very rare occasions they are called gods (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:9) having been commissioned by God as His servants, and possessing authority from Him. Neither reference establishes that any group of mighty beings can be called gods. Scripture never uses the word gods for “mighty men of valour” (Joshua 1:14; 6:2; 8:3; Judges 6:12; 1 Chronicles 5:24, etc.) or any other warriors in powerful armies. No groups other than angels and men in places of judicial or civil leadership are called gods, and these groups receive the plural term, not because of their inherent power or might, but because they have received authority from God.
Third, no single being is called “a god” in an unqualified sense anywhere in the Bible. Satan is called “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) because he seeks and receives the worship that ungodly men ought properly to render to the one true God. He rules and controls the current ungodly system of things (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Ephesians 2:2). The fact that the recipient of the false worship offered by the ungodly in the current system of this age is called the “god of this world” does not establish that any particular single mighty being can be called “a god.” The qualifiers “of this world” are appended to the title of Satan as “a god,” because Satan is absolutely by no means God, or “a god,” in any absolute sense, but only “a god” with respect to the limited sphere of this current world system. Satan is not by nature “a god,” but he became “god of this world” after the Fall of man, and he will lose this role when Christ returns to rule the earth and removes the devil from this position. In like manner, “the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh” (Exodus 7:1) because Jehovah said to Moses, “Thou shalt speak all that I command thee” (Exodus 7:2) to the king of Egypt. Moses was not God or “a god” in an absolute sense, but only, because of his commission as God’s representative to the Egyptian tyrant, “a god to Pharoah.” With respect to the single person of Pharoah, and with respect to the limited role of being the Almighty’s messenger and representative before the king of Egpyt, and with respect to the limited time of his acting as ambassador from the Lord of all to the king, Moses was “made” or appointed “a god,” that is, God’s spokesman to Pharoah, delivering the Word and will of God to the king. No single fallen angel is called “a god” without any qualifiers. No individual unfallen angel, such as Michael or Gabriel, is called “a god” without qualifiers. Neither the qualified title given to Satan, nor the qualified title given to Moses, provide any justification whatoever to the idea that any particular powerful being can be called “a god” without any qualifiers.
Fourth, even apart from such considerations, Scripture specifically distinguishes Christ from the category of such “gods,” identifying Him as Jehovah and the object of worship of all such beings. Hebrews 1:6 reads, “And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” The Lord Jesus is here identified as the object of worship for all the angels. Furthermore, the text refers to Psalm 97:7, 9: “Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods. . . . For thou, LORD, art high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods.” By referencing the command in Psalm 97 that all “gods” worship Jehovah, Paul identifies Christ in Hebrews 1:6 as the Almighty God and the object of worship for all such “gods.” The Lord Jesus is so far from being in the category of such “gods” that He is distinguished from them all as the object of their worship. God’s eternal Son is not some sort of secondary true god, but is Jehovah Himself, who alone is worthy of worship from all angels and men.
Thus, in every one of the rare instances where the word “god” is used and the reference is not to the one true and living Almighty God, the Scriptures make unmistakable distinctions that leave no room whatever for confusing God and such “gods.” References to false gods, to imaginary pagan idols as “gods” (cf. Jeremiah 16:20) or to individual powerless chunks of wood or stone, such as Baal, as “a god” (Judges 6:31; 1 Kings 18:27), plainly are entirely unsupportive of the Arian affirmation that there are two true Gods, an Almighty God and a secondary true god, Christ. The false gods of Scripture are abominations, but Arianism affirms that there is a second true god who is good, not abominable. The references to angels and judges as “gods” because of their commission from God are distinguished from references to the Almighty as God because of their plural form and the connection of their title of gods with their office as messengers. Such uses of the plural form gods do not establish that one can speak of an individual creature as as being by nature “a god,” especially since the title gods relates to judges and angels in their office as messengers and representatives of God, not to themselves considered absolutely in their nature or essence. Neither do the two references where Moses and Satan respectively are called, for a limited period of time in reference to a specific situation, a “god of something” or “god to someone” provide any support for the idea that any created being can properly and by nature be called “a god.” Among the thousands of references to the word God in the Bible, not a single one refers to any being other than the true God as being, by nature or essence, God. Furthermore, the Lord Jesus Christ is specifically identified in Scripture as Jehovah and the rightful receipient of worship from all other “gods.” There are no references to any created being possessing the nature of “a god” by essence, because such a notion is polytheism, pure and simple, and the Bible from Genesis to Revelation teaches monotheism. Arians may ask, “Does saying that Jesus Christ is “a god” conflict with the Bible’s teaching that there is only one God?” and answer the question “No,” but the actual answer is an unquestionable “Yes!” There is only one Being who is by nature God—He who said, “Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any” (Isaiah 44:8)—and all the angels and created beings in the universe properly render worship to the Lord Jesus Christ as One who is not a god, but the one God Himself (Psalm 97:7, 9; Hebrews 1:6).
All Arian attempts to support their doctrine from Scripture absolutely fail. They may confound the Trinity with tritheism and refute the notion that there are three gods; they may confound the Trinity with modalism and refute the notion that the Father, Son, and Spirit are the same Person; they may ignore the duality of natures in Christ and prove that the Lord Jesus is fully human; and they may advance various other objections to the Trinity, but none of their objections has any objective value. There are no verses whatever that establish the Arian doctrine of God, and vast numbers of passages that contradict it. On the other hand, there is overwhelming positive evidence from many, many verses for the Trinitarian doctrine of God, but there are no verses whatsoever that contradict it. The one only living and true God, who has given mankind knowledge of Himself through the Bible, is Triune. Recognizing Him as such is essential for the lost if they wish to gain eternal life (John 17:3), and knowing Him as such is a great portion of the glory and joy of the saints on earth and the saints in heaven.
VII. The “Jesus Only” Doctrine of God Examined:
Is Jesus Christ the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Modalism, otherwise known as Sabellianism or “Jesus Only” Christology, teaches that Jesus Christ is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that the Trinity is false. Its most promiment modern proponents are found in the movement known as Oneness Pentecostalism or Apostolic Pentecostals. Their doctrine of God, in the words of a prominent advocate, David Bernard, is as follows:
Trinitarianism contradicts and detracts from important biblical teachings. It detracts from the Bible’s emphasis on God’s absolute oneness, and it detracts from Jesus Christ’s full deity. . . . The Bible does not speak of an eternally existing “God the Son;” for the Son refers only to the Incarnation. (2) The phrase “three persons in one God” is inaccurate because there is no distinction of persons in God. . . . (3) The term “three persons” is incorrect because there is no essential threeness about God. The only number relevant to God is one. He has many different roles, titles, manifestations, or attributes, and we cannot limit them to three. (4) Jesus is the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost[.] . . . (5) Jesus is the incarnation of the fulness of God. He is the incarnation of the Father (the Word, the Spirit, Jehovah) not just the incarnation of a person called “God the Son.”
What is the essence of the doctrine of God as taught by the Bible – the doctrine we have labelled Oneness? First, there is one indivisible God with no distinction of persons. Second, Jesus Christ is the fulness of the Godhead incarnate. He is God the Father – the Jehovah of the Old Testament – robed in flesh.
However, contrary to Oneness Pentecostalism, Trinitarianism is taught in Scripture. Indeed, the Oneness Pentecostal doctrine of God is idolatry. Oneness Pentecostalism also teaches a false gospel of salvation by works, water baptism, and Spirit baptism, contradicting the Biblical truth that salvation is by faith alone apart from works: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “[A] man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).
The Trinitarian doctrine of God has been carefully explained above—that explanation will not be repeated here. The outline of the study below is as follows:
1.) The Distinctions Between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
2.) The Eternity of the Son
3.) Objections to Personal Distinctions by Modalists Answered
i.) Since there is only one God, and Jesus Christ is God, Jesus Christ is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
ii.) Jesus Christ is God the Father (Isaiah 9:6), for believers are Christ’s children or sons (John 14:18; Revelation 21:7).
iii.) To see Jesus Christ is to see the Father, John 14:9, so Jesus is the Father.
iv.) Since Christ said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), Jesus Christ is the Father.
v.) 1 John 3:1-5 teaches that Jesus Christ is the Father.
vi.) When believers get to heaven, they will only see one throne, and one God seated on the throne, not three thrones and three gods, as the Trinity teaches. Therefore Jesus Christ must be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
vii.) The Father is the Holy Spirit, because the Father is a Spirit, and He is holy.
viii.) Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit, 2 Corinthians 3:17; Romans 8:9-11.
ix.) Since the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit have the same functions, they are the same Person.
x.) Texts that mention the Father and the Son often do not mention the Holy Spirit,
so He is not a separate Person.
xi.) Since the fulness of the Godhead is in Christ, Colossians 2:9, Jesus Christ is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—if Jesus Christ is only the Son, only part of the Godhead is in Him.
xii.) If the Father and Son are distinct Persons, the Jesus Christ had two Fathers—the Father (1 John 1:3) and the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35).
xiii.) There is only one Spirit, Ephesians 4:4, but if the Trinity were true, then there would be three Spirits (John 4:24; 2 Corinthians 3:17).
xiv.) If the Son is truly God rather than simply being the human part of God, he could not be limited in knowledge (Mark 13:32), be less than the Father (John 14:28), die (Matthew 27:50), or have His kingdom truly end (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
xv.) Since baptism is performed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19), but baptism is performed in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38), Jesus Christ is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
1.) The Distinctions Between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
There are vast numbers of passages which distinguish between Jesus Christ and the Father, and between Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and many where Jesus Christ is identified as the Son, but no passages where Christ is identified as the Father or as the Holy Spirit.
Many passages distinguish between the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. For example:
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:6)
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Corinthians 8:6)
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; (2 Corinthians 1:3)
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. (2 Corinthians 11:31)
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) (Galatians 1:1)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: (Ephesians 1:3)
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: (Ephesians 1:17)
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, (Ephesians 3:14)
Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; (Ephesians 5:20)
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 6:23)
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:11)
We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, (Colossians 1:3)
That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; (Colossians 2:2)
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; (1 Thessalonians 1:3)
Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. (1 Thessalonians 3:11)
To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: (2 Thessalonians 1:1)
Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, (2 Thessalonians 2:16)
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. (1 Peter 1:2)
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: (1 John 2:1)
Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22)
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. (2 John 9)
These texts are impossible to explain on the Oneness view. If Jesus Christ is the Father, why does Scripture speak of the Father “of” Christ, of the Father “and” Christ, of fellowship both “with” the Father, and “with his Son Jesus Christ,” of Christ being an “advocate with the Father,” and so on? Nor is it possible to affirm that the “Father” is simply the Divine nature of Jesus, while the “Son” is His human nature, for these texts that distinguish between Father and Son ascribe attributes of Deity to He who is distinguished from the Father. Believers can only be blessed by the Father of Christ through being “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3); Christ is the Omnipresent Deity who is able to have all believers “in” Him, while also being distinct from the Father. Not the Father only, but Christ as distinct from Him, gives believers “everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort[s] [their] hearts, and stablish[es] [them] in every good word and work” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17), but only if Jesus Christ is God can He bestow Divine grace, comfort the hearts of, and inwardly sanctify and establish all believers just as the Father does. Only if the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are both Deity can believers worldwide fellowship with them both (1 John 1:3). Scripture clearly distinguishes the Father from Jesus Christ in the same passages that ascribe Divine qualities to both the Father and the Lord Jesus—it is impossible to affirm that texts such as these speak only of an impersonal human nature that is set in contrast to God.
Texts that distinguish “God” from “the Lord Jesus Christ” are most suitable for a Trinitarian distinction between two Persons in the Godhead. They do not, by contrast, support the Oneness idea that a distinction between Divine and human natures in Jesus Christ is all that is in view, a position allegedly supported by the fact that only the Father is called “God” in such instances. 1 Corinthians 8:6 may serve as an example: “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” Oneness advocates are very unlikely to affirm that God the Father is not “Lord” because in this verse, and in similar passages, only Christ is called “Lord.” If 1 Corinthians 8:6 proves that only the Father is “God” and “Jesus Christ” must be an impersonal human nature since Christ is not termed “God,” then the fact that the same verse only calls Jesus Christ “Lord” means that the Father is not “Lord,” even apart from the nonsensical idea that all things can be created and sustained by an impersonal human nature.
The epistolary salutations also very clearly distinguish between the Divine Persons of the Father and Jesus Christ:
To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:3)
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:3)
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:2)
Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, (Galatians 1:3)
Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:2)
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:2)
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Colossians 1:2)
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:1)
Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:2)
Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:2)
To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (2 Timothy 1:2)
To Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour. (Titus 1:4)
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philemon 3)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3)
Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. (2 John 3)
Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called: (Jude 1)
Over and over again, the human penmen of Scripture wish for the Divine blessings of grace, mercy, and peace to come upon those to whom they write, not from the Father only, but also and equally from the Lord Jesus Christ. Neither the Arian Christ, a mere creature, nor the Oneness “Son,” an impersonal human nature, have the ability to bestow the Divine blessings of grace, mercy, and peace, much less to do so just as God the Father bestows them. Furthermore, the fact that such benedictions are implicit prayers, seeking such blessings from the Father and the Lord Jesus, demonstrate the equal Deity of both Persons. Nor can the church be “in” God the Father and Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:1) if Jesus Christ, as distinct from the Father, is not a Divine Person, but is an impersonal human nature that is not omnipresent, but bound by space and time.
To avoid such severe problems, Oneness advocates often note that the word “and” (kai) can on occasion be translated “even,” and claim that the texts above are all mistranslated. Therefore, a modalist argues, a text such as 1 Corinthians 1:3 should not be translated “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ,” but rather “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, even from the Lord Jesus Christ.” However, such an affirmation does not eliminate the problems for modalism. First, in the New Testament kai is translated “and” c. 8,173 times, “also” 514 times, and “even” only 108 times. Only in rare syntactical circumstances is kai translated “even.” Since “even” is the translation for kai only about 1% of the time, while the two most common translations, which make up c. 99% of uses, both obliterate modalism if employed in the benedictions to the epistles, the modalist reply to the Trinitarian case from the epistolary benedictions is very weak.
Second, the benedictions do not stand as isolated passages, but have other indications of distinctions between the Father and the Son in their immediate context. For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:1-3, Paul not only wishes the Corinthians grace and peace “from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ,” but also affirms that he is “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” and declares, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:2 is so far from demanding the translation “even,” rather than “and,” for kai, that the immediate context demonstrates the necessity of the meaning “and” and the personal distinction between the Father and the Lord Jesus.
Third, the translation “even” cannot be employed to eliminate the personal distinctions between the Trinitarian Persons in the benedictions, even apart from considerations of context. Consider 2 John 3: “Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” The Lord Jesus Christ is specifically called “the Son of the Father,” and as Son of the Father He is the Divine source of grace, mercy, and peace with His Father. No rarified rendering of kai can avoid the affirmation of personal distinctions between two Divine Persons, the Father and the Son, in this passage.
Indeed, the Father and Christ are not only distinct Persons who give grace, mercy, and peace, but are two distinct witnesses:
There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true. . . . And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. . . . [I]f I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me. (John 8:16-18, 5:32, 37)
Christ, referring to the Old Testament statute that judicial judgment required at least two witnesses (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6), specifies that the Father is “another” than He, a different witness to Himself. Were Christ the same Person as the Father, their testimony would not be of two, but of one.
A modalist might reply that the distinction mentioned is not one between two Persons, the Father and Christ, but between the two natures of Christ. However, the Old Testament judicial procedure Christ referred to required two persons for a verdict, not one person with two roles. Nobody could be condemned in the Old Testament if one person said, “My emotions testify that this man is guilty, and my body also testifies that this man is guilty; thus, I am two witnesses.” Furthermore, an impersonal human nature cannot testify to anything. Only real Persons, such as God the Father and God the Son, can be two distinct witnesses that both validated Christ as the Messiah.
In contrast to this abundant testimony to distinction between the Father and Christ, not a single passage of Scripture states anything such as: “Grace, mercy, and peace to you from Jesus Christ, who is the Father of the Son,” or “Blessed be Jesus Christ, the Father and the Son,” or “peace be to the brethren from Jesus Christ the Father and Jesus Christ the Son.” While “Jesus is explicitly referred to as ‘the Son’ over two hundred times in the New Testament . . . never once is he called ‘Father.’ By contrast, over two hundred times ‘the Father’ is referred to by Jesus or someone else as being clearly distinct from Jesus. In fact, over fifty times this juxtapositioning of the Father and Jesus the Son is rendered explicit within the very same verse.” Indeed, the Lord Jesus speaks in dozens of texts of “my Father,” but Christ never even even once spoke of “my Son.” Many times the Lord Jesus said He was sent by the Father, but never once does Christ say He was the Father who begat the Son, sent the Son, loved the Son, or anything else of the kind. He never said that He was His own Father. These facts explain why anyone who simply read the New Testament would conclude that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but one would require extra-biblical revelations or modalist teachers before one could overcome the plain meaning of the Bible and declare that Jesus Christ is the Father.
Many passages also distinguish Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, while none identify Christ as the Holy Spirit. For example:
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. (Matthew 4:1)
And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, (Luke 4:1)
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. (Luke 4:14)
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)
And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, (Philippians 1:19)
How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14)
Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. (1 Peter 1:11)
If the Lord Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit, such distinctions between the two would be entirely unexpected. While Scripture speaks of the Spirit “of” Christ, of Christ being led by the Spirit, and so on, the Bible never affirms that the Lord Jesus Christ is Himself the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, John 14-16 makes very clear the distinct Personhood of the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit:
I [Jesus Christ] will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth[.] . . . These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. . . . But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me[.] . . . Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment . . . I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. 15 All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” (John 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26; 16:7-8, 12-15)
If such language did not teach the distinct Personhood of the Father, Son, and Spirit, Christ’s discourse in John 14-16 would not be revelation, but utter confusion. Jesus Christ did not pray to Himself, and then have this second Himself give “another” Comforter who is not really another but is really Himself, so that He Himself sent Himself in the name of another Himself. He did not say that when He Himself, although another Comforter, would come, who He Himself would send as Himself from Himself, as Himself proceeding from Himself, He Himself would testify of Himself. He did not say that it was expedient that He would go away so that He could send Himself back again as someone else who was not someone else. He did not say that He Himself would not speak of Himself, but would speak of Himself, when He heard from Himself what He Himself taught about Himself, so that He took the things of Himself from another Himself who was really not another Himself and showed it to the disciples. A Oneness Pentecostal view of this discourse makes as much sense as the gibber-gabber of their allegedly restored gift of tongues.
Paul similarly teaches the distinct Personhood of the Father, Son, and Spirit in vast numbers of passages:
And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27)
That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. (Romans 15:16)
Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; (Romans 15:30)
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10)
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ . . . was preached among you by us . . . all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. (2 Corinthians 1:19-22)
Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. (2 Corinthians 3:3)
1 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. . . . Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us . . . that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:11-14)
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Galatians 4:6)
For through him [Jesus Christ] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are . . . of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18-22)
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith[.] (Ephesians 3:14-17)
There is one Spirit . . . one Lord . . . one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ[.] (Ephesians 5:17-20)
[T]he gospel . . . is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth: as ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:5-8)
But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14)
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he [God, v. 4] saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour. (Titus 3:5-6)
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; 4 God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (Hebrews 2:3-4)
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29)
The personal distinctions between the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are very clear in these illustrative texts. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is never said to be the Father or the Holy Spirit, but is regularly distinguished from them. The Holy Spirit is regularly distinguished from the Father and Christ.
Just as the writings of John and Paul clearly distinguish the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, so the rest of the New Testament does so also. For example, all four Gospels record the narrative of Christ’s baptism:
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:31-34)
If Jesus Christ is really the Father and the Holy Spirit, this event is rather an illusion and deception than revelation of the character of God. Nobody who simply took the passage at face value would think that Jesus was not only being baptized but that Jesus was also the Spirit of God that descended upon Jesus, and Jesus was His own Father in heaven who said that Jesus was His beloved Son in whom He, Jesus, was well pleased. Matthew 28:19 also very clearly distinguishes the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). Peter wrote: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Peter 1:2). Similarly, Jude stated: “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 20-21). Modalism must change the Scripture from a revelation of God’s nature to utter confusion and illusion to escape the meaning of all these texts.
While Scripture never identifies the Lord Jesus Christ as the Father or as the Holy Spirit, it regularly identifies Him as the Son:
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; (Mark 1:1)
But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? (Mark 14:61)
And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. (John 6:69)
She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. (John 11:27)
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (John 20:31)
The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. (Acts 3:13)
Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities. (Acts 3:26)
And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Acts 8:37)
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. (Acts 9:20)
God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. (Acts 13:33)
Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; (Romans 1:3)
God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. (2 Corinthians 1:19)
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10)
So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. (Hebrews 5:5)
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. (1 John 3:23)
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)
Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. (2 John 3)
It is a central theme of the Gospels that Jesus Christ is the Son of God the Father. Indeed, believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is essential to the receipt of eternal life (John 20:31). The title “Son of God” explicitly distinguishes the Son from the Father, a distinction often demonstrated yet the more clearly by the context, while, even as distinguished particularly from the Father, the Son is ascribed characteristics of Deity. The Son of God, as distinguished from the Father, is the omniscient and omnipresent Deity with whom believers have fellowship (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:3), not an impersonal human nature. The Son, who was raised from the dead by the Father, has the incommunicably Divine power to forgive sin and perfectly deliver from God’s wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10). An impersonal human nature cannot deliver from God’s wrath. The Son is the omnipresent One whom believers are “in,” in the same sense that they are “in” the omnipresent Father—indeed, the Son is “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and as Son He possesses the Divine essence and absolute equality with His Father, who is distinct from Him. The term “Son of God” cannot possibly refer merely to an impersonal human nature.
Modalism affirms that Jesus Christ is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Scripture, on the other hand, never refers to Jesus Christ as the Father, and never refers to Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit, but continually distinguishes Christ from the Father and the Holy Ghost. Scripture does, however, make the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God central to the entire New Testament revelation. It never distinguishes Jesus Christ from the Son of God in the way that it distinguishes the Lord Jesus from the Father and the Holy Ghost. Therefore, the Bible clearly supports the Trinitarian doctrine that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but He is not the Father and not the Holy Spirit, while it demolishes the modalist doctrine that the Lord Jesus is the Father, Son, and Spirit.
2.) The Eternity of the Son
Oneness Pentecostals limit the designation Son to the human nature of Christ. In so doing, they must affirm that the Son of God did not exist before His birth in Bethlehem. Any texts that appear to indicate otherwise, these modalists affirm, simply speak of Christ’s preexistence as the Father, or to Christ’s preexistence in God’s foreknowledge (cf. Revelation 13:8), in a manner comparable to the foreknowledge God had of His elect before their creation and redemption (Ephesians 1:4).
Oneness advocates set forth a number of arguments for their view that “Son” only refers to the human nature of Christ and so the “Son” only came into existence in the womb of Mary. First, Luke 1:35 is employed: “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” However, the text simply teaches that Christ’s virgin birth was evidence that He is the eternal God manifest in the flesh, as predicted by Isaiah 7:14. Luke 1:35 by no means proves that Jesus Christ is the Son of God because the Father literally “sired” or “fathered” Him. Furthermore, the Holy Ghost, not the Father, is the One through whom Jesus Christ was conceived in Luke 1:35, so Oneness Pentecostalism is only furthered if modalism is already assumed, and the Father and the Holy Ghost are confounded in the passage. In any case, even if one gave the modalist the most he could possibly with any shadow of legitimacy take from the passage, the verse would only give one reason Jesus was called the Son of God. It is not legitimate to conclude that if Luke 1:35 sets forth one reason Christ is called the Son of God, that there are no other reasons—such as, say, His eternal preexistence as Son—whereby He is also worthy the designation, nor is it legitimate to conclude that one reason for His possessing the designation of “Son” indicates that He only began to be the “Son” at that time.
Second, Oneness Pentecostals affirm that the references to Christ as the “begotten” Son, and Hebrews 1:5-6, where Christ is said to begotten “today,” show that He only became Son at the incarnation. “Beget” and “create” are made equivalent, and the “today” is made the day of the incarnation, so tha the Son was allegedly created at the time of the incarnation. However, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and the “today” is true for any day and every day, for the Son’s being eternally begotten is His identifying particularity that distinguishes Him from His Father from eternity past to eternity future. Since the eternal generation of the Son has been exposited above, it will not be examined further here.
While none of the modalist arguments that Jesus Christ only become God’s Son at the incarnation are valid, the evidence for the Trinitarian doctrine that the Son is eternal is overwhelming. First, the Old Testament plainly teaches the preexistence of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. The book of Proverbs asks: “Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?” (Proverbs 30:4). Daniel walked with the Son of God in the midst of the fiery furnace, to the astonishment of Nebuchadnezzar: “He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25). In Psalm 2:7-12, king David sets forth the Son of God, who would in the future be “given” to the world as its redeemer (Isaiah 9:6), as the object of faith for the world—all who would receive eternal blessing must submit to and trust in Him:
7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. 8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. 9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. 10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
It is very clear that this Son is not simply king David himself, or any other mere mortal who would sit on the throne of Israel. None of them would possess the uttermost parts of the earth and rule them with a rod of iron—but Jesus Christ will in His millenial kingdom (Revelation 2:27; 12:5; 19:15). In light of the coming rule of God’s Son, the Messiah, the “kings” and “judges of the earth” are exhorted “now” to “Kiss the Son,” submit to Him, and also “trust in him,” lest they perish in His anger—the Son is the object of faith in the Old Testament for those who would escape eternal damnation. King David is very clear that Christ existed as the Son of God far before His incarnation.
As the Old Testament plainly teaches the preexistence of the Son of God, so the New Testament evidence is exceedingly clear. The prologue to John’s gospel, John 1:1-18, clearly teaches that Jesus Christ is the Son who existed eternally with His Father:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. 15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. 16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. 18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
The preincarnate Word is God while also being a distinct Person “with” the Father (v. 1). He is a distinct Person who is eternal (v. 2), the Creator (v. 3), possessor of life (v. 4), He who lights every man that comes into the world (v. 9), the One who came to the Jews although they did not receive Him (v. 11), the Giver of eternal life to those who believe on Him (v. 12), the only begotten of the Father who became flesh (v.14) and the only begotten Son who has an eternal intimate relationship with His Father and is the only Revealer of the Father (v. 18).
Modalists attempt to avoid the clear teaching of this text by affirming that the “Word” is only a thought in the Father’s mind. However, such an idea is totally obliterated by the passage itself. The Word was “with” God, in an intimate personal relationship such as that described in v. 18 as being the “Son . . . in the bosom of the Father.” A mere idea cannot be “God” (John 1:1c), cannot create the universe, possess life in itself, light every man that comes into the world, give eternal life to those who believe in it, become flesh, reveal the Father, or have an intimate relationship with the Father as His Son who is eternally in His bosom. A mere idea cannot bestow out of its fulness and give ever more abundant grace (1:16), but Jesus Christ, the preexistent Son, can do so (1:16-18). Nor does John the Baptist testify that a mere idea preexisted himself (for the all-knowing God also foreknew the Baptist, as the whole number of His elect, from eternity) and was exalted above himself (1:15). Rather, the person of “Jesus Christ,” the “Lamb of God” and “the Son of God” (1:26-36), is the One who preexisted John the Baptist and was exalted above the Baptist. It is utterly impossible for a mere idea to fit the description of Christ as the Word and Son in John 1. Nor can the Father be “with” Himself and somehow be the Son in His own bosom (v. 1-2, 18).
The rest of John’s Gospel is equally clear about the preexistence of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son with His Father, infinite ages before the incarnation in Bethlehem. The Lord Jesus declares, “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3:13). John explains, “He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all” (John 3:31). The One who is the “Son of Man,” and thus patently not the Father, or a mere idea, is the Person who “came down from heaven,” and yet remains the omnipresent Son, able to still be “in heaven” even after the incarnation, as God who is “above all.” In John 6, Christ expounds His preexistence still further:
For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. . . . For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. . . . I am the bread which came down from heaven. . . . I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. . . . I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:33, 38, 41, 51, 57-58)
The One who is distinct from the Father who sent Him, “the Son” who was sent by the “Father” to redeem those that the Father gave Him from eternity and raise them up at the last day (6:37-40), “came down from heaven” to redeem the world. It is utterly impossible, if language has any objective meaning and the Bible truly is God’s revelation to mankind in comprehensible language, to make affirmations of this sort refer to the Father sending Himself, or to a mere idea in the Father’s mind that somehow is a personal Redeemer and Savior of the elect.
Similarly, in John 8 Christ declares:
I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go. . . . I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. . . . I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me. . . . [I]f ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. . . . [H]e that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him . . . the Father. . . . And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. . . . the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. . . . I speak that which I have seen with my Father . . . If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. . . . it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God . . . I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by. (John 8:14, 16, 18, 24, 29, 35-36, 38, 42, 55-59).
When the Lord Jesus declares His Deity in affirming that He is the I AM, Jehovah, and that the Jews would die in their sins if they did not believe this truth, He expressed truth about Himself as the “Son” who has the Divine power to make men “free indeed.” Before the incarnation, He was Son and the Father was Father, for the Son proceeded forth and came from the Father, being sent by the Father. In the same sense in which He would ascend to the Father as a distinct Person, so He came from the Father as a distinct Person (8:14): “Jesus kn[ew] that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God[.] . . . For the Father himself loveth you [disciples, said Christ], because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. . . . I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.” (John 13:3; 16:27-28). The Person who ascends is as real and as distinct from the Father as the Person who descends. Consequently, the Son and the Father can be two different witnesses to the truth (8:16-18). The Son did not come of Himself, but He was sent by the Father (8:42). It is exceedingly clear in the text that the Father and the Son are two distinct preexistent Persons. Christ existed as the eternal “I AM” with the Father “before the world was” (17:5). Language could not be clearer.
Christ’s High Priestly prayer in John 17 also testifies to His personal preexistence with the Father as a distinct Trinitarian Person:
1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: 2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. 3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. 4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. 6 I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. 7 Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. 8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. 9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. 10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. 11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. 12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. 20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. 24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. 26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.
Jesus Christ, the “Son,” has power to give eternal life to all those given Him by the Father (v. 1-2), something only God, not an impersonal human nature can do. Eternal life is knowing both the Father and Jesus Christ, who the Father sent from His preincarnate state into the world (v. 3). In His preincarnate state, the Son was given a work to accomplish by the Father (v. 4). Upon His ascension, Christ receives again the full manifestation of the Divine glory that He had with the Father before the creation of the world—His glory was hidden in His incarnate state of humiliation (v. 5). The Son was given the elect in the covenant of redemption in the preincarnate state before the Father sent the Son (v. 6-9). Christ guarantees the eternal security of every believer the Father gave Him from eternity, keeping all of them, so that none are lost (v. 12). The Son gives the saints the Word from the Father, an impossible task for an impersonal human nature (v. 14). All believers have a unity “in us,” the Father and Son, requiring both Persons to be omnipresent Deity, a truth also made clear from the fact that the Son is “in” each saved person (v. 21-23). The Father loved His Son even “before the foundation of the world” (v. 24). The Son reveals the Father to each one of the saints of God, so that they may grow in love and have more of His indwelling presence; such a revelation is only possible since the Son is personally distinct from the Father, yet also God by nature—only so can the omniscient Son truly and fully know the infinite Father and reveal Him (v. 25-26). John 17 very clearly teaches that the Father and the Son existed before Christ’s incarnation as distinct Persons in the Trinity.
John’s Gospel is exceedingly clear—the Son of God is an eternal Person in the Trinity. The term “Son” does not merely refer to the human nature Christ assumed in the incarnation. On the contrary, the term speaks of a distinct Person in the Triune Godhead—the eternal Son of the eternal Father.
The Apostle Paul is as clear as the Apostle John about the Son of God’s eternal preexistence as a distinct Person from the Father in the Godhead. Colossians 1:12-17 reads:
12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: 14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: 15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
The passage is clear the the “dear Son” of “the Father” is “the image of the invisible God” and one who has the position of Firstborn over every creature because (“for”) He is the Creator Himself: by the Son “were all things created . . . all things were created by him and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Modalists cannot affirm that the solely Divine work of creation is really specified of the Father, for the “by him” and the other masculine singular pronouns of v. 16-17 refer specifically to the “Son” of v. 13. Nor can the Son be reduced to an idea in the Father’s mind of Christ’s coming human nature, for an idea cannot create a universe (v. 16) or hold it together (v. 17)—only God can do that. Nor can an idea hold the Messianic position of firstborn over the creation (v. 15). Furthermore, if the “Son” were only Christ’s foreknown human nature, it would be very difficult to affirm that such an idea was “before all things,” for God has had the idea of the world He intended to create in His mind from eternity—there would be no temporal priority of the created human nature of Christ to the created universe, but the text affirms that the Son had exactly such a temporal priority. Nor does it make any sense to say that God created a whole universe for the sake of an impersonal human nature; on the contrary, the Father through His personally distinct Son created the entire universe for His Son’s sake; there is “one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
Similarly, Philippians 2:5-11 is very clear on the distinct and eternal preexistence of the Son of God with His Father:
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Christ Jesus, who eternally existed in the form of God, did not think it was robbery to have the position of being equal with God, since He was and is always equal to God the Father in nature (v. 5-6). Despite His status as the eternally preexistent God, Christ humbled Himself, and added to the form or nature of God that He had by virtue of His Divine nature the form or nature of a servant, a true human nature, and even humbled Himself to the extent of suffering the death of the cross (v. 7-8). Consequently, the Father highly exalted the God-Man, publicly and openly giving Him the name above all names, Lord or Jehovah. At this “name of Jesus,” this name possessed by Jesus, Jehovah, every knee will bow to Him, to the glory of God the Father (v. 9-11, quoting the speech of Jehovah in Isaiah 45:23, “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”). Philippians 2:5-11 teaches with tremendous clarity that Jesus Christ is a distinct Divine Person from God the Father.
Most modalists seek to avoid the plain meaning of this passage by ascribing all that is said about Jesus Christ in His Deity to the Father. However, if Christ is “equal with God” the Father, He must be personally distinct from Him, although equal in nature. “Equal with” affirms plurality; it does not mean “identical with and the same Person as.” Nor can the exaltation described in v. 9-11 be referred to Christ’s human nature—rather, Jesus Christ’s nature as Jehovah is affirmed as every knee bows to Him, glorifying the distinct Person of God the Father (v. 9-11).
Hebrews 1 also plainly teaches that the Son preexisted the incarnation eternally as Jehovah and as God, and that the Son is the Creator:
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 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 on the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. 5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? 6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. 7 And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. 8 But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. 9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. 10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: 11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; 12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. 13 But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?
In Hebrews 1:1-4, “God” the Father is distinguished from His “Son,” but this Son is not merely a human nature that came into existence thousands of years after the creation of the world, but is the One by whom the Father “made the worlds.” The Son is the Agent of the creation itself. Nor is the human nature of Jesus Christ “the brightness of [the Father’s] glory,” or “the express image of his person,” nor can a human nature or a human person “uphol[d] all things by the word of his power.” On the contrary, only if the Son is a Divine Person are these descriptions at all appropriate. The Divine Person of the Son, the Agent of Creation, is the Object of angelic worship at the time when the Father brings the Son into the world in the incarnation (v. 6), and the Father testifies by His own speech that His Son is “God . . . for ever and ever,” and the Lord Jehovah (v. 10-12; Psalm 102:12, 25-27), although distinguished from the Father, who is called “God, thy God” (v. 9), and who anointed the Son with the oil of gladness. Two distinct and eternal Divine Persons are very evident in Hebrews 1, as they are in the rest of Hebrews—the “Son of God” is “without . . . beginning of days, [or] end of life” (Hebrews 7:3), so “Son” is a designation of the second eternal Person in the Trinity, rather than only a designation of a human nature that had a very clear beginning of days in the womb of Mary. Hebrews 10:5-7 record the speech of this same Son, in His preexistent state, to His Father: “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.” The Son existed before a body was prepared for Him, and at His Father’s will He entered into the world and became Man. His existence before the incarnation is very clear.
3.) Objections to Personal Distinctions by Modalists Answered
i.) Since there is only one God, and Jesus Christ is God,
Jesus Christ is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Trinitarians are passionately committed to the doctrine that there is only one God. They are also passionately committed to the truth that Jesus Christ is God. However, Scripture teaches that within the undivided Divine essence three distinct Persons subsist, and Jesus Christ is one of those three Persons, not all three of those Persons. Trinitarianism is confirmed, not refuted, by arguments for monotheism and by arguments for the Deity of Christ.
ii.) Jesus Christ is God the Father (Isaiah 9:6),
for believers are Christ’s children or sons (John 14:18; Revelation 21:7).
Isaiah 9:6 teaches that Jesus Christ has a fatherly role towards His people, not that He is the Person of the Father. In Hebrews 2:13, believers are called Christ’s “children,” quoting Isaiah 8:18 (only a few verses before Isaiah 9:6; cf. John 13:33). The Lord Jesus exercises fatherly care over His people, but that is an entirely different matter from saying that He is the Person of the Father. Indeed, Isaiah 9:6 specifically calls Christ the “son” that was “given,” distinguishing Him as Son from the Father.
John 14:18 employs the word orphanos, translated in the KJV as “comfortless,” and the use of orphanos is also used by modalists to argue that Jesus Christ is the Father. If Christ speaks about leaving His people “fatherless” (cf. the use of orphanos in James 1:27), He must be God the Father, it is argued. However, the fact that Christ exercises a fatherly care for His people no more proves that He is God the Father than the fact that Paul says he is a father to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:15) proves that the Apostle Paul is God the Father, or the Apostle John’s references to believers as “little children” proves that John is God the Father (1 John 2:1). The tender paternal care of the Lord Jesus for His needy people mentioned in John 14:18 by no means proves that He is the Person of God the Father—on the contrary, in the immediate context of the verse Christ is distinguished regularly and repeatedly from the Father (cf. John 14:2, 6-7, 9-13, 16, 20, 21, 23, 26, 28, 31). Besides, the word orphanos was used in the first century, as it had been used for centuries, to mean “pertaining to being without the aid and comfort of one who serves as associate and friend,” rather than solely to being literally fatherless; thus, e. g., the friends of Socrates are described, thinking of his absence from them, as “thinking that [they] would have to spend the rest of our lives just like children deprived of their father [orphanos].” In John 14:18, the disciples feared that they would be left without the aid and comfort of Christ as their associate and friend.
Similarly, at best one could prove from Revelation 21:7—if Christ, rather than the Father, is the speaker—that Christ bears a fatherly and tender care for believers. The idea that Christ is God the Father simply is not stated. Revelation 21:7 proves that God will enter into tender communion for all eternity with those who overcome despite the trials of this life (21:1-7), in contrast with the unregenerate, who are cast into the lake of fire (21:8). Nothing in the context states or hints that the point of 21:7 is to identify Jesus Christ as God the Father. On the contrary, the book of Revelation constantly distinguishes the Father from the Lord Jesus (cf. Revelation 1:5-6; 3:5, 12; 12:10; 14:1, 4, 12, etc.). Revelation identifies Christ as “the Son of God” who is distinguished from His Father (2:18, 27), but never makes a statement such as, “Jesus Christ, who is the Father.”
iii.) To see Jesus Christ is to see the Father, John 14:9, so Jesus is the Father.
John 14:1-11 reads:
1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. 5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? 6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. 7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. 8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? 10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.
While Christ’s assertion that to see Him is to see the Father demonstrates Christ’s Deity and His union of essence with the Father, and that Christ is the One who reveals the Father, it does not demonstrate that He is the Person of the Father. On the contrary, both Christ and the Father are set forth as distinct personal objects of faith (14:1). Christ further distinguishes Himself from the Father with the pronoun “my” (14:2), and states that the way “unto the Father” is “by me” (14:6), again distinguishing Himself from the Father—and, furthermore, demonstrating that Christ is both God and Man in His one Person, for as both He is Mediator to the Father. Christ says that to know Him is to know the Father “also” (14:7), Philip asks Christ to show him a different Person, the Father (14:8), and in explaining the statement that to see Christ is to see the Father (14:9), the Lord Jesus does not say, “I am the Father,” but “I am in the Father, and the Father in me . . . the Father dwelleth in me” and distinguishes Himself from the Father who “doeth the works” (14:9-11). The Trinitarian doctrine of perichoresis, that the Father and the Son are “in” one another, is affirmed in John 14:9-11, but modalism is not. One sees the Father when he sees Christ, not because they are the same Person, but because the Lord Jesus is one in essence with His Father, and is the express image of the Father’s distinct Person (Hebrews 1:3). It is entirely plain in John 14:1-11 both that Christ is true God (14:9) and that He is distinguished from the Father.
iv.) Since Christ said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), Jesus Christ is the Father.
John 10:30, while it demonstrates the unity of essence between the Father and the Son in the Trinity, does not by any means prove that Jesus Christ is the Person of the Father. First, in the immediate context Jesus Christ repeatedly and clearly distinguishes Himself from the Father, who is called “my Father” (10:25, 29, 32, 36, 38). Second, John 10:30 itself actually demonstrates that the Father and Christ are distinct Persons. In the verse, the Lord Jesus certainly does not say, “I am the Father.” Rather, a plural verb is used for the Father and Christ. The Lord Jesus does not say, “I and the Father am one,” but “I and the Father are one.” What is more, Christ employed the Greek neuter gender in His affirmation of unity with the Father, rather than the masculine—the text teaches that the Father and Christ are one thing, one essence, but not that the Lord Jesus and the Father are one Person.
v.) 1 John 3:1-5 teaches that Jesus Christ is the Father.
Modalists argue that in 1 John 3:1-5, only the Father is mentioned. Therefore, the statements “he shall appear . . . we shall see him as he is . . . he was manifested to take away our sins” (3:3, 5) refer to the Father returning in the Second Coming. Since Jesus Christ returns in the Second Coming, Jesus is the Father.
However, 1 John consistently distinguishes “the Father . . . and his Son Jesus Christ” (1:3, 7; 2:1, 23-24; 3:23; 4:2-3, 9-11, 14-15; 5:1, 5:1-13; 20). Neither in 1 John, nor anywhere else in Scripture, does the Bible speak of the second coming of the Father—rather, Scripture always speaks of the second coming of Christ, who is specifically distinguished from the Father (Matthew 16:27; Acts 1:7-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 19:11-15). Nobody who simply read the book of 1 John would conclude from 3:1-5 that Jesus Christ is the Father. On the contrary, 1 John is very clear that the one who will “appear” is Jesus Christ, who is distinct from the Father. Furthermore, while the Apostle John did not need to remind his audience that the One who would “appear” was the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in light of the very clear statements in the rest of his epistle, the nearest antecedent to the “he” of “he shall appear” is actually “God” (3:1, 2), not “the Father.” John has no reticence in calling Jesus Christ God (John 1:1; 20:28; 1 John 3:16; 5:20) while at the same time distinguishing Him from the Father (John 1:1-3; John 20:28-31; 5:20, cf. 5:6-9), and Christ’s Divine glory will be very apparent at the time of His second coming—His return is the “glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), who is “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). Besides, since God is one, to see Christ’s Divine glory is to see the Father’s glory in any case (cf. John 14:9). While an argument for Christ’s Deity might be made from 1 John 3:1-5, nothing in the passage affirms in any way that Jesus Christ is the Father, and the word “Father” is not the nearest stated antecedent to the “he shall appear” of 3:3, 5 in any case, even if a specifically stated antecedent were necessary, which is not so.
v.) When believers get to heaven, they will only see one throne, and one God seated on the throne, not three thrones and three gods, as the Trinity teaches. Therefore Jesus Christ must be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
First, Trinitarians reject with abhorrance the idea that there are three gods. Anyone who believes in three gods is not a Trinitarian, and Trinitarians denounce tritheism as a damnable heresy. Second, Trinitarians believe that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son and the only One in the Trinity who ever became incarnate, will always be the only One who believers will see in the eternal state, because only He has a visible body (cf. John 1:18; 1 Timothy 6:16). Third, in the forty-two verses where the word “throne” is employed in relation to the Father or Jesus Christ in the New Testament, not one text teaches that the Father is Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, many texts speaking of a throne distinguish the Father and the Lord Jesus:
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: (Luke 1:32)
Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; (Acts 2:30)
8 But unto the Son he [God the Father, v. 1, 5] saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. 9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. (Hebrews 1:8-9)
Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; (Hebrews 8:1)
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; 5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:4-6)
To him that overcometh will I [Christ] grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. (Revelation 3:21)
6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. 7 And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. 8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. 9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. 11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; 12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. 13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. 14 And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever. (Revelation 5:6-14)
And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: (Revelation 6:16)
9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9-10)
14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. (Revelation 7:14-17)
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. (Revelation 12:5)
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. (Revelation 22:1)
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: (Revelation 22:3)
Summarizing the evidence above, Scripture teaches that only Jesus Christ, “the Son of the Highest,” not the Father, is ever said to sit on David’s throne (Luke 1:32; Acts 2:30). The Father says to His Son, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever,” plainly indicating both the Deity of the Son and that He is distinct from the Father (hence “God, thy God,” v. 9). Christ is pictured at the right hand of the Father’s throne (Hebrews 8:1; 12:2). Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are distinguished from the Father who sits on the throne (Revelation 1:4-6). Christ, while speaking, distinguishes “my throne” from “my Father [and] his throne” (Revelation 3:21). Jesus Christ, “the Lamb,” is “in the midst of the throne” of the Father, and takes a book “out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne,” with the result that every creature says, “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever,” ascribing Divine worship equally to the Father and Christ while distinguishing them (Revelation 5:6-14). The Father on the throne is distinguished from the Lamb (Revelation 6:16; 7:9-10, 15-17). Christ is caught up to the Father’s throne (Revelation 12:5). In the New Jerusalem, the Apostle John speaks of “the throne of God and of the Lamb,” showing the unity between them in here speaking of a single throne while still distinguishing the Father and Christ (Revelation 22:1, 3).
Without having actually entered glory yet, it is difficult for the believer to know exactly how literally to take all the imagery of heaven in the book of Revelation or what exactly the Christian will see when he gets there. Jehovah also declares: “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1), but He does not somehow wrap the heavens around some body that He supposedly has and then makes the globe into a rest for His feet. Since the Father is invisible, has no body, and is omnipresent, He does not literally sit on a throne, although He indubitably rules as the Sovereign King from eternity to eternity. In any case, none of the texts in Scripture speaking of God’s “throne” affirm that Jesus Christ is the Father or the Holy Spirit, while the Divine Persons of the Father and Christ are regularly and repeatedly distinguished in “throne” passages.
vii.) The Father is the Holy Spirit, because the Father is a Spirit, and He is holy.
This modalist objection confuses the personal names of the first and third Person, “Father” and “Holy Spirit,” with the attributes that pertain to the Divine essence and are consequently the possession of all three Persons in common, namely, spirituality and holiness.
viii.) Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit, 2 Corinthians 3:17; Romans 8:9-11.
2 Corinthians 3:17 teaches that the Holy Spirit is Lord, but it does not teach that the Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ. Nothing in the context indicates that “the Lord” in 2 Corinthians 3:17a is Jesus Christ. Paul could easily have said, “Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit,” but neither he, nor any other writer in the Bible, made such a statement. 2 Corinthians 3:17 consequently evidences the Deity of the Holy Spirit, but it does not make Him the same Person as Jesus Christ—indeed, 2 Corinthians 3:17b explicitly distinguishes the Spirit from Christ by speaking of “the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 3:17 is so far from proving modalism that it affirms Trinitarianism and is another of the many, many texts that demolish modalism. Nor does Romans 8:9-11 teach that Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit. Rather, the passage demonstrates that both the Holy Spirit and the Son indwell all believers. Indeed, not the Son and Spirit only, but the Father also, and thus all three Persons of the Godhead are in the believer, for the Divine essence is undivided: “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). Romans 8:9-11 actually distinguishes the Persons of the Godhead:
9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. 10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
Verse nine distinguishes the Spirit from the Father and the Son; the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ.” Verse 11 also distinguishes “the Spirit” from “him that raised up Jesus,” that is, the Father, and also from “Jesus,” the One who was raised up. The Father who raised up Christ will also make the mortal bodies of dead believers alive “by his Spirit.” There is not a shred of modalism in Romans 8:9-11.
ix.) Since the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit have the same functions,
they are the same Person.
One could as well affirm that because Paul preached the gospel, and Timothy preached the gospel, that Paul was Timothy; or that because Isaiah prophecied, and Jeremiah prophecied, that Isaiah was Jeremiah; or because David was king of Israel, and Solomon was king of Israel, that David was Solomon; or because the Father sent Jesus Christ, and the Father sent John the Baptist, that Jesus Christ was John the Baptist. The fact is that Trinitarians believe that the the external Trinitarian works, the works ad extra, are undivided, so it is not surprising at all that, for example, the Father is said to raise Christ from the dead, Christ is said to raise Himself from the dead, and the Holy Spirit is said to raise Christ (Galatians 1:1; John 2:19-22; 1 Peter 3:18). If the works of the Triune God towards mankind are from the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit, it is not surprising that all such works can be attributed to any one of the three Persons, as the entire Godhead performs such works in accordance with the roles they assumed in the economic Trinity. The ascription of solely Divine works, from creation to resurrection, to the Father, Son, and Spirit show that all three are God, but they do not show that they are the same Person.
x.) Texts that mention the Father and the Son often do not mention the Holy Spirit,
so He is not a separate Person.
This is simply an argument from silence that proves nothing. One could, with just as much consistency, argue that because there are passages where the Father is mentioned alone, He does not have a Son. Furthermore, the different roles assumed in the economy of salvation by the three Persons often explains the presence or absence of their names in various situations. For example, in 1 John 1:3, the Holy Spirit is not specifically mentioned because He is the One through whom believers enjoy communion with the Father and with the Son—and, note, the Father and the Son are both the distinct objects of the Christian’s communion. The immediate working of the Spirit also explains why He is not mentioned in epistolary salutations—He is the one who applies the grace and peace given by the Father through the Son, rather than working as the originator of grace and peace. In Revelation 21:22-23, “the Lord God Almighty” is the entire Triune God, not the Father only, and “the Lamb” is the incarnate Mediator. Furthermore, why does not the mention of Father and Son prove that they two are distinct Persons, rather than the absence of the mention of the Holy Spirit in some texts prove that He is not a distinct Person? This argument is very weak.
Besides, there are many texts where the Father, Son, and Spirit are mentioned together. For example:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
For through him [Christ] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Ephesians 2:18)
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. (1 John 5:7)
References to the Father, Son, and Spirit are woven into the woof of the Biblical text—for example, Ephesians 1:3-14 is one sentence in Greek divided between the Father (1:3-6), the Son (1:7-12), and the Holy Spirit (1:13-14). If “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” are just three attributes or functions, why don’t we see comparable lists of references in the Bible such as, say, “Father, omnipresence, and holiness,” or “justice, Son, and love,” or “kindness, sovereignity, and the Holy Spirit,” etc.? Why does nothing of this sort appear in Scripture with a frequency comparable to the frequency with which the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are mentioned—only references to those whom Trinitarians recognize as the three Divine Persons? Why do the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have all the attributes of personality, manifesting thought, will, and affections, while Divine attributes, such as “justice,” “mercy,” or “goodness” are not at all comparably personified?
Finally, since it is the work of the Spirit to point to the Father and the Son (John 16:13-14), rather than to Himself, it is not surprising that at times the Holy Spirit is absent in certain references where the Father and the Son appear.
xi.) Since the fulness of the Godhead is in Christ, Colossians 2:9, Jesus Christ is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—if Jesus Christ is simply the Son, only part of the Godhead is in Him.
This argument neglects the fact that Trinitarians recognize that the Divine essence is undivided. They do not believe that the Father, Son, and Spirit each have 1/3 of the essence. The fulness of the Godhead is in the Son, and it is also in the Father and in the Holy Spirit.
xii.) If the Father and Son are distinct Persons, then Jesus Christ had two Fathers—
the Father (1 John 1:3) and the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35).
This modalist argument, either in deliberate rebellion or culpable ignorance, ignores the fact that Trinitarians believe that God is the Father of the Son from eternity, not simply because of the incarnation. The incarnation is not what made Jesus Christ the Son of God. The fact that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary in conjunction with the incarnation does not prove that the Holy Ghost is the Person of the Father.
xiii.) There is only one Spirit, Ephesians 4:4, but if the Trinity were true, then there would be three Spirits (John 4:24; 2 Corinthians 3:17).
Ephesians 4:3-6 reads:
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are 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.
It is perfectly clear that the “one Spirit” of Ephesians 4:4 is the Person of the Holy Spirit, who is actually distinguished in context from the “one Lord” Jesus Christ of 4:5 and the “one God and Father” of 4:6. It is true that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all possess the characteristic of being spirit. Trinitarians recognize that the undivided Divine essence has the attribute of spirituality, and therefore that the Father, Son, and Spirit possess this characteristic of the essence, as they do all other characteristics of the essence. Trinitarians also recognize that the name of the third Person of the Godhead is the Holy Spirit. There is no reason whatsoever to conclude that because the divine essence possesses the attribute of spirituality, and the third Person is called the Holy Spirit, that therefore the third Person is the first and second Person, but such categorial confusion is what this modalistic argument comes down to.
xiv.) If the Son is truly God rather than simply being the human part of God, he could not be limited in knowledge (Mark 13:32), be less than the Father (John 14:28), die (Matthew 27:50), or have His kingdom truly end (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
This objection is based on a misunderstanding of orthodox Trinitarianism and Christology. The Christian believes that the Son of God united a human nature to Himself so that He became the God-Man. He did not have limited knowledge, die, subordinate His kingdom to the Father, etc. as God, but as Man. The Athanasian Creed even affirms that Christ is “equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood.” Trinitarians fully expect texts such as John 14:28 to be in the Bible, and their doctrine is by no means contradicted by them.
xv.) Since baptism is performed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19), but baptism is performed in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38), Jesus Christ is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There are numerous problems with this modalist argument. First, the texts in Acts do not speak of a formula, but indicate that baptism was performed with the authority of Christ; that is what “in the name of” means. Second, the texts in Acts do not even always refer to “Jesus Christ,” but sometimes to simply “the Lord” (Acts 10:48). Third, baptism performed using the Trinitarian formula of Matthew 28:19 actually is performed in the name of Jesus Christ, for Jesus Christ is the One who authorized the formula by commanding His church, after His resurrection, to practice Matthew 28:19 in His post-resurrection appearance. Fourth, Matthew 28:19 actually affirms Trinitarianism and rejects modalism with the successive articles “the” before “Father . . . Son . . . and . . . Holy Spirit.” If the Father is the Son and the Holy Spirit, the verse could also be stated: “in the name of the Father, and of the Father, and of the Father.” On the other hand, if “Son” refers merely to the human nature of Christ, how can an impersonal human nature authorize anything, much less have authority equal to that of the Father?
Since Acts 2:38 is probably the single most important text for Oneness Pentecostalism, the excerpt below concerning the verse from Heaven Only for the Baptized? The Gospel of Christ vs. Baptismal Regeneration has been reproduced:
Acts 2:38 reads, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” This verse is the favorite proof-text for many who defend salvation by baptism. It is usually argued that Peter affirms that one must repent, and then be baptized, in order to receive (“for”) the remission of sins, after which one receives the Holy Spirit. The dogmatic crux on which the argument turns is the assertion that baptism is “for” the remission of sins in the sense that it is administered “in order to receive” forgiveness. Careful study will demonstrate that Peter does not assert baptism is administered in order to receive forgiveness in Acts 2:38, nor is such a view of the verse consistent with the apostle’s teaching elsewhere in the book of Acts.
While the baptismal regenerationist insists that “for” in Acts 2:38 means “in order to” receive remission of sins, those who give credence to the overwhelming testimony of Scripture in general to justification by faith alone usually contend that the “for” signifies “with respect to” or “on account of” remission of sins already received. A poster with a picture of a criminal affirming that he is “wanted for robbery” asserts that he is wanted “on account of” a robbery already committed, not (hopefully!) “in order to” commit another robbery. The English of Acts 2:38 is consistent with the view that Peter affirmed that the crowds at Jerusalem needed to repent, and then be baptized “on account of” the remission of sins that they received when they repented, rather than repenting, and then being baptized “in order to obtain” the remission of sins.
An examination of the Greek text underlying Acts 2:38 similarly harmonizes with justification by faith. The word translated “for” is the Greek preposition eis. The second most common preposition in the New Testament, it appears 1,767 times. As one might expect with a word this common, eis has a great variety of meanings in different contexts—as does the English word “for.” The preposition eis can signify “on account of” or “with respect to,” as it does, for example, in Matthew 12:41 and 10:41-42 (3 times):
The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas [Greek, eis, “on account of” the preaching of Jonah, not “in order to obtain” the preaching of Jonah]; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. (Matthew 12:41)
41 He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet [Greek eis, “on account of” or “with respect to” the name (or character) of a prophet—hardly “in order to obtain” the name of a prophet] shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in [Greek eis, “on account of” or “with respect to”] the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in [Greek eis, “on account of” or “with respect to”] the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. (Matthew 10:41-42)
Among the many uses of the word eis, the meaning “on account of” or “with respect to” is clearly found in Scripture. This sense of eis represents Acts 2:38 as “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ on account of the remission of sins [received at the time of repentance].” The baptismal regenerationist concludes too much when he affirms that Acts 2:38 proves his doctrine that baptism is administered “in order to obtain” forgiveness. The verse can easily convey a meaning perfectly harmonious with justification by faith before baptism.
To determine more exactly the significance of eis in Acts 2:38 requires consideration of the verses where the preposition appears in connection with baptism. While the word can signify “on account of” and “with respect to” in reference to other objects, if, in verses that associate eis and baptism, the sense is clearly “in order to” obtain, the baptismal regenerationist argument in Acts 2:38 might carry some weight. However, no such connection is found in the sixteen verses that associate baptism and eis in the New Testament. The clear sense of the word in many of these verses is “on account of” or “with respect to.” Not one of the uses must signify “in order to” obtain; indeed, such an idea is impossible in a number of passages. For example, John the Baptist preached, “I indeed baptize you with water unto [eis] repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matthew 3:11). Here it is obvious that John baptized people “on account of” their prior repentance; he certainly did not wrestle unrepentant sinners into the water “in order to” get them to repent! The affirmation that Acts 2:38 proves that baptism is “in order to” obtain the remission of sins does not take into account the use of eis in connection with baptism in the rest of the New Testament.
Indeed, John’s preaching of a baptism on account of (eis) repentance (Matthew 3:11), a baptism that is the result of repentance (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4), controls a proper understanding of Acts 2:38. John had “preached . . . the baptism of repentance [the baptism that is the result of repentance] to all the people of Israel” (Acts 13:24), and his message of baptism on account of repentance had filled “all the land of Judea . . . of Jerusalem . . . [and] all the country about Jordan . . . [so that] all men [came] to him” (Matthew 3:5; Mark 1:5; Luke 3:3; John 3:26). Peter and the other apostles had been baptized by John (Acts 1:22). When Peter preached, “[Y]e men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem . . . [r]epent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for/on account of (eis) the remission of sins” (Acts 2:14, 38), his Pentecostal message of baptism on account of the remission of sins was one with which both the apostle and his audience were familiar from the preaching of John the Baptist. The message of John, baptism on account of repentance (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4), was what Peter preached in Acts 2:38. Peter’s Pentecostal sermon was no more “Repent, and be baptized in order to obtain the remission of sins” than John’s message was “I indeed baptize you with water in order to get you to repent.” The context and historical setting of Acts 2:38 within the framework of the baptism of John do not merely make it possible that Peter’s message was baptism on account of the remission of sins, but clearly establish this sense of the command.
The grammatical structure of Acts 2:38 connects the receipt of the Holy Spirit (and thus the new birth “of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8) and its associated receipt of eternal life) with repentance, not baptism. The section of the verse in question could be diagrammed as follows:
Repent (2nd person plural aorist imperative)
be baptized (3rd person singular aorist imperative)
every one (nominative singular adjective)
in (epi) the name of Jesus Christ
for (eis) the remission of sins
ye shall receive (2nd person future indicative) . . . the Holy Ghost
Both the command to repent and the promised receipt of the Holy Spirit are in the second person (i. e, “Repent [ye]” and “ye shall receive”). The command to be baptized is in the third person singular, as is the adjective “every one” (hekastos). Peter commands the whole crowd to repent and promises those who do the gift of the Holy Ghost (cf. Acts 10:47; 15:8). The call to baptism was only for the “every one of you” that had already repented. The “be baptized every one of you” section of the verse is parenthetical to the command to repent and its associated promise of the Spirit. Parenthetical statements, including those parallel in structure to Acts 2:38, are found throughout Scripture. The connection in Acts 2:38 between the receipt of the Holy Spirit and repentance, rather than baptism, overthrows the assertions of baptismal regenerations on the verse.
Peter also clearly affirmed elsewhere in Acts that at the moment of repentant faith one receives the Spirit and eternal life. As taught in all the rest of the New Testament, Peter believed that one “receive[s] the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14), not by baptism. In Acts 10:34-48, just as on the day of Pentecost (11:15, 17), eternal life, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, was received at the moment of repentant faith (11:18; 10:43-48) and before baptism. Peter explicitly stated that God “purif[ied] [the] hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9) of those given eternal life in Acts 2 and 10, when they “heard the word of the gospel, and believe[d]” (15:7, cf. v. 11), at which time they received the Holy Spirit (15:7-9). Furthermore, in the rest of the book of Acts, Peter proclaimed justification by repentant faith alone. He preached, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). He associated “repentance . . . and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). He commanded men to “repent . . . and . . . be forgiven” (Acts 8:22). In Acts 10:43, he preached that “through [Christ’s] name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” If Peter taught forgiveness by baptism in Acts 2:38, why did he teach justification by repentant faith, as the other apostles did (Acts 13:39; 16:31), in all the rest of Acts? Did he change his mind in Acts 10-11 and 15, and, twice, inform the very church at Jerusalem that included numerous converts from his sermon in Acts 2 that they were saved by faith, not by baptism? Did the entire Jerusalem church agree with Peter’s new teaching and “glorify God” (11:18) for it, including those that were supposedly baptized in order to receive the remission of sins on that first Pentecost? The allegation that Acts 2:38 conditions forgiveness of sins on baptism ignores the clear statements of Peter about what happened on that day, his preaching of the gospel everywhere else in the book, and the numerous affirmations of salvation by repentant faith alone by others in Acts.
While the fact that Peter preached the receipt of the Spirit upon repentance, and before baptism, in Acts 2:38; 10:47 & 15:8 refutes all versions of baptismal regeneration, it is especially worthy of note as a response to the Oneness Pentecostal doctrine that people do not receive the Holy Spirit until after they have received anti-Trinitarian Oneness baptism and spoken in tongues. Acts 2:38 promises the Spirit before baptism, and far before the time advocated by Oneness doctrine. The Bible also teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, that the one and only God has existed from eternity in three distinct Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, even before the gift of tongues, the miraculous ability to speak in known foreign languages, ceased, it was never for all believers (1 Corinthians 12:30), and certainly was not a prerequisite to justification. Additionally, in Acts 19:2 the aorist participle “believed” is dependent upon the aorist verb “received,” and the verse indicates that Paul assumed that the Holy Spirit was received instantaneously upon believing (that is, with temporal simultaneity but logical subsequence to faith), not at some later period when some sort of second blessing took place. “[W]hen the aorist participle is related to an aorist main verb, the participle will often be contemporaneous (or simultaneous) to the action of the main verb.” Paul’s question to these professed disciples assumed the reality of an immediate receipt of the Spirit at the moment of faith. “[In Acts 19:2] there is no question about what happened after believing; but the question rightly relates to what occurred when they believed. . . . [The verse could be rendered] rightly, ‘Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?’” The post-believing coming of the Spirit in miraculous power recorded in Acts 19:6 employs a different Greek word than that generally used for the simple receipt of the Spirit as in verse 2. The word in verse 2, when employed after the historical event of Spirit baptism ceased by Acts 19, always refers to the receipt of the Spirit at the moment of faith. This use is universal in the epistles. In contrast, the word in Acts 19:6 is never used in the New Testament of the believer’s receipt of the Spirit at the moment of faith and regeneration.
The Oneness Pentecostal idea that “the one name of Matthew 28:19 is Jesus, for Jesus is the name of the Father . . . the Son . . . and the Holy Ghost . . . the name of Jesus was orally uttered as part of the baptismal formula . . . the name Jesus was orally invoked at baptism” is entirely erroneous and heretical, and it cannot be sustained Scripturally. If one must, as Oneness Pentecostalism affirms, employ the correct words at the time of baptism or salvation is impossible, which words should be employed? Those of Acts 2:38, “in [epi] the name of Jesus Christ”; those of Acts 8:16 and 19:5, “in [eis] the name of the Lord Jesus”; or those of Acts 10:48, “in [en] the name of the Lord”? Since there are three different groups of words, with three different prepositions employed (epi, eis, and en), and three different endings (“Jesus Christ,” “Lord Jesus,” “Lord,”—note that the last does not even have the name “Jesus” at all), which set constitutes the magic words without which salvation is impossible? Would it also not be very unfortunate that, whichever of the three sets of words one determines is the true one, every person the apostles and first century Christians baptized employing the two “wrong” sets of words was eternally damned? How many of the first century Christians must have missed heaven because they did not know which of the various sets of words were the magic keys to heaven! How unfortunate, indeed, how misleading it is that Luke, writing under inspiration, does not give the slightest hint that either Acts 2:38, or 8:16, or 19:5, or any other verbal formulation whatsoever, is essential to salvation! What errors the apostles made as well in allowing all those baptized in Acts into church membership, whichever set of words are recorded in connection with their baptism, although the two-thirds with the wrong formula were not truly saved! Or is it not rather obvious that the Oneness Pentecostal notion that a certain set of words is essential to salvation cannot be sustained in the book of Acts or elsewhere in Scripture? Since there is no consistent set of words recorded in Acts in connection with baptism “in the name of” the Lord, and so Acts is not giving a specific set of words that must be employed without sinning and facing eternal damnation, what does the “name” terminology really mean?
Baptism is “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38), not because Jesus is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, nor because the words “in the name of Jesus” or some similar non-Trinitiarian formula was uttered when the ceremony was performed, but because baptism is performed with Christ’s authority. The Lord Jesus, who has all authority or power (Matthew 28:18), commanded that baptism be performed with the Trinitarian formula of Matthew 28:19. When this is done (and other requirements for baptism are met, such as that the person being baptized is a believer, not an infant), the baptism is performed with Christ’s authority, that is, in His name. When Baptist churches employ the Trinitarian formula the Lord Jesus commanded for use until the end of the world (Matthew 28:20), they are baptizing in Jesus’ name.
The fact that “in the name of” means “with the authority of” is evident in Scripture. Several examples, out of many, will be given. In Deuteronomy 18:5-7, the Levites were “to minister in the name of the LORD.” Unlike the other tribes, they had Jehovah’s authority to do their Levitical work. They did not go around all day long repeating His name in a sort of mantra. Their ministrations in the tabernacle and temple, teaching the Law to God’s people and completing other work, was done with Divine authority, hence “in His name.” In 1 Samuel 25:9, “when David’s young men came, they spake to Nabal according to all those words in the name of David, and ceased.” David’s young men came to Nabal with David’s authority and gave Nabal a message from David. They did not come to Nabal and say, “David, David, David, David.” In 1 Kings 18:32, Elijah “built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.” Elijah built the altar with Jehovah’s authority (1 Kings 18:36). The point was not that he repeated the Tetragrammaton over and over again. In Esther 3:12, “the king’s scribes called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and there was written according to all that Haman had commanded unto the king’s lieutenants, and to the governors that were over every province, and to the rulers of every people of every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language; in the name of king Ahasuerus was it written, and sealed with the king’s ring.” The letter had the authority of king Ahasuerus, so all men in his empire needed to pay attention. The words of the letter were not “Ahasuerus, Ahasuerus, Ahasuerus.” In 2 Thessalonians 3:6, Paul wrote, “[B]rethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” The apostle commanded the church at Thessalonica with Christ’s authority. Paul wrote under inspiration, and the command to practice church discipline was given by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18:15-20. In Acts 4:7, the elders of Israel asked Peter what authority the apostle had for his message. Their question was, “By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?” In Luke 24:47—which sets the background for the use of “in the name of” formulae in Acts, since Luke wrote Acts as the continuation of his gospel (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-4) and the preaching in Acts was in fulfillment of the command given in Luke 24 (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15)—“repentance and remission of sins should be preached in [Christ’s] name among all nations.” That is, the Lord Jesus gave authority to the church to preach repentance and remission of sins, and so this preaching was done as recorded in the book of Acts. “In the name of” means “with the authority of” in Scripture.
Acts 19:1-7 demonstrates that the formula given in Matthew 28:19 was employed by the apostolic churches, corroborating that Trinitarian baptism is actually baptism with Christ’s authority (Acts 19:5). When Paul found people who claimed to be “disciples” (v. 1) who had “not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost” (v. 2), the apostle, in shock, asked “Unto what then were ye baptized?” Since the churches were “baptizing . . . in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19), employing the Trinitarian formula in their baptismal ceremony, Paul asks these alleged “disciples” how they could have been baptized and never have heard of the Holy Ghost, when He is mentioned in the baptismal ritual itself. Paul’s question would not make any sense if the baptismal ceremony employed a formula such as “I baptize you in the name of Jesus.” How would that formula be a guarantee that all baptized disciples had heard of the Holy Ghost? Trinitarians correctly explain Paul’s mental process as, “How could these people be disciples in Christian churches—they have not even heard of the Holy Ghost, but He is mentioned in the act of baptism itself! ‘Unto what then were ye baptized?’” Oneness Pentecostals would have made Paul think, “How could these people be disciples in Christian churches—they have not even heard of the Holy Ghost—now He isn’t mentioned in the act of baptism, since only the word “Jesus” is used in the formula. However, I’ll ask them what they were baptized unto anyway, as if that related to what they had just said somehow.”
Very early documents in church history demonstrate that even around the end of the first century baptism was administered employing the Trinitarian formula. Near the end of the first century, it was written: “Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” “For those things which the prophets announced, saying, ‘Until He come for whom it is reserved, and He shall be the expectation of the Gentiles,’ have been fulfilled in the Gospel, [our Lord saying,] ‘Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’” Some decades later, declarations like the following are found: “For the law of baptizing has been imposed, and the formula prescribed: ‘Go,’ He saith, ‘teach the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’” In contrast, no extant patristic writer or ancient document says anything like “we should not baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, but in the name of Jesus Christ” or anything remotely similar. True churches in the earliest centuries of Christianity employed the Trinitarian baptismal formula (as even proto-Catholicism did).
When Biblical churches employ the Trinitarian formula in baptism, they are baptizing in Jesus’ name, just like the first century churches did. Oneness Pentecostals that employ the phrase “in the name of Jesus” when immersing people but believe the idolatrous heresy that Jesus is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do not have any authority from God for their practice—they are the ones who do not really baptize in the name of Jesus Christ.
Acts 2:38 does not by any means prove that one must be baptized in order to receive the forgiveness of sins. This assertion not only exceeds the English of the verse, it ignores the variety of usage of the Greek preposition eis in the New Testament, the Biblical uses of eis associated with baptism, the grammatical structure of Acts 2:38, the commentary of Peter upon the events of Acts 2, the teachings of Peter elsewhere in Acts, and the teachings of every other preacher of the gospel in the book and in the rest of Scripture. Furthermore, Acts 2:38 neither contains a baptismal formula nor teaches or implies that the invocation of certain words at the time of baptism is essential to salvation. Nor does the verse deny the Trinity to teach that Jesus is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Rather, in Acts 2:38 Peter preached that people needed to repent, at which time they would receive the Holy Spirit, an event which Scripture never affirms is necessarily evidenced by miraculous speech in foreign languages, much less by babbling in non-miraculous gibberish. Those that repented were to be baptized on account of the remission of their sins. This baptism was performed by the authority of Jesus Christ, for He had instituted the ordinance for His church in Matthew 28:19. Acts 2:38 neither teaches baptismal regeneration nor modalism, but is entirely and indubitably compatible with the Trinity and with justification by repentant faith alone.
Trinitarianism, not modalism or Oneness Pentecostalism, is taught in the Bible. The idea that Jesus Christ is the Father and the Holy Spirit as well as the Son is false. The idea that Christ is not eternally Son, but only became Son at the incarnation, is likewise false. Vast numbers of passages obliterate modalism, but objections to Trinitarianism by modalists fail.
Modalists worship a false god. They need to repent and come in faith to the true God of the Bible—the one God who is eternally the personally distinct Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—or they will be eternally damned. Oneness Pentecostals must also reject their heresies of salvation by baptism, speaking in tongues, and good works, to embrace the Biblical way of salvation—justification by grace alone through faith alone (Romans 3:28; 4:5).