AN EXAMINATION AND REFUTATION OF THE DENIAL OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY BY ONENESS PENTECOSTALISM
By Vincent McCann Regents Park Theological College March 1997
Boyd, an ex-Oneness Pentecostal has drawn attention to the lack of literature that has been produced by the evangelical community on the subject of Oneness Pentecostalism. Despite the vast amount of literature that has been written on other new religious movements and contemporary world religions, most Christian authors hardly ever mention this very large movement. (1) Oneness believers often appear orthodox in their belief in the nature of God due to their strict monotheism and confession that Jesus Christ is the one true God manifest in the flesh. (2) Bowman observes that it is because of this seeming orthodoxy that many Christians do not see anything wrong with their theology, on the contrary, many are even attracted by it. (3) For this reason many Christians of initial Trinitarian persuasion (Pentecostals in particular) have joined their ranks. (4) Boyd observes how former professing Trinitarians constitute the largest single group of people who convert to the Oneness movement. In the eyes of Oneness believers, Trinitarian churches are ripe to proselytise. (5)
How the Oneness Position Differs From Trinitarianism
Despite its seeming orthodoxy, Oneness Pentecostalism differs significantly from classic Pentecostalism on account of its belief in the nature of God. Oneness believers, along with groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Way International, and The Church of God International, completely reject the doctrine of the Trinity and claim that it is pagan in origin. (6) It is also argued that the doctrine of the Trinity should be rejected because it is unscriptural. Graves criticises nonbiblical Trinitarian terminology such as ‘Trinity’ and ‘Persons’ as evidence against the Trinity being unbiblical. (7) Instead, Oneness Pentecostals adhere to the belief that God is absolutely one in numerical value, Jesus Christ is fully God, and that there is no place for a plurality of Persons within the one God. (8) It is reasoned that Trinitarianism implies belief in not one God but three separate gods, and hence falls into the error of Tritheism. (9)
While Trinitarians understand Father, Son and Holy Spirit as referring to the Persons of the Trinity, Oneness theologians believe that these refer to three ways in which the one Person (the Father), or one God manifests Himself. (10) This teaching is brought into harmony by the cross-referencing of two Scriptures in particular, Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38. It is argued that the ‘name’ (singular) of Matthew 28:19 that believers are baptised into is ‘Jesus’, as is found in the book of Acts. From this, it is therefore deduced that the Father, the Son and the Spirit are one Person who is called Jesus. (11) Oneness exponents not only contend that the doctrine of the Trinity is totally incompatible with the biblical teaching of Monotheism, and the Deity of Christ, but state that belief in the Trinity actually detracts from them. Sabin, accuses Trinitarians of denying the full Deity of Christ because they view Him as being distinct from the Father. (12) However, despite these serious accusations, actually the opposite is true. When the facts are closely examined it soon becomes apparent that it is actually Oneness Christology that detracts from the full Deity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. (13)
Bowman observes that the first premise within Trinitarian doctrine is that God is only one. (14) It is this truth that Trinitarians have always affirmed as an indisputable fact, being found in both Old and New Testament records (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 42:8; 44:6; Mark 12:29; 1 Tim. 2:5; Jas. 2:9). But despite these affirmations, Oneness adherents, along with other anti-Trinitarian groups consistently accuse Trinitarians of worshipping three gods. (15) Much of this misrepresentation often comes from a misunderstanding of the word ‘Person’ when used to refer to the distinctions within Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). (16) Modern day understanding of the word usually denotes an individual that is completely independent of others even to the point of being at variance with them. (17)
Despite this contemporary thought original Greek and Latin terms used of the word person (prosopon, persona) did not originally carry with them the meaning that is associated with the word today; that is to say these terms did not necessarily ascribe any separate kind of consciousness or will. (18) Prestige notes how the word originally meant ‘face’, up until the fifth century when it came to mean ‘representative’ or ‘type’. (19) The Christian doctrine of perichoresis, or mutual indwelling of the three Persons, whereby all of God is present in each Person, acts as a safeguard against charges of Tritheism.(20)
In Trinitarianism, the word Person is merely used as a convenient shorthand to refer to the distinctions that exist in the one eternal God. To speak of three eternal and Divine Persons in this sense is to recognise the relationships that exist between the Three. (21) These relationships are clearly seen threaded throughout the New Testament: the Father sends the Son into the world (John 3:16, Gal. 4:4, 1 John 4:9) and both the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7; Gal. 4:6). The Father speaks to and of the Son as another (Mark 1:11; John 12:28; Heb. 1:8-12), as does the Son to the Father (Matt. 11:25; 36:39; John 17); and the Son likewise addresses the Holy Spirit as another (John 14:16-17; 25-26; 16:5-15) who glorifies the Son (John 16:14) as the Son glorifies the Father (John 17:1-4). (22) To be able to do these things clearly indicates that the Father, Son and Spirit are more than the one Person who is operating in different modes. Each is referred to as a ‘He’ as opposed to an ‘it’ and as ‘Another’ as opposed to a ‘thing’. (23)
Trinitarians freely admit that the word Person does have its limitations; however, no other word has been successfully agreed upon which has led to the traditional word being retained despite the limitations and misunderstandings that it brings with it. (24) The present writer observes how such terminology is not always unavoidable, even for those who profess Oneness. For example, Oneness believers and Trinitarians alike will agree that God is a Person; however this could be mistaken to mean that God is a Person in the sense that He is a human being. But if the word Person was not used at all, some may arrive at the mistaken conclusion that God is an impersonal force. The truth is, when finite humanity speaks of a Being who is infinite, limitations in terminology are inevitable.
The above is also true of the charge that Trinitarians are in error because non-biblical words like ‘Trinity’ are used to explain their position when speaking of God. Although this kind of reasoning is popular in non-Trinitarian circles it cannot be consistently sustained. Oneness believers, like Trinitarians, also employ unbiblical words to express their beliefs. Words like ‘millennium’, ‘theocracy’, and ‘incarnation’ are often used but not found in the Bible. (25) This, however, does not mean that what these words seek to express is untrue; they are simply used in such a way to better express and explain one’s position. The same can also be said with Trinitarian terminology. (26)
The ‘name’ in Matthew 28:19 has long been a subject of contention between Oneness and Trinitarian Pentecostals. (27) Oneness believers insist that because the name is singular it must be referring to Jesus on account of the baptismal pattern in the book of Acts (2:38; 8:16; 19:5 etc.). From this it is not only concluded that Jesus is the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but that it is absolutely essential that baptism is administered in His name only, if one hopes to be saved. (28) The first thing that can be said in response to the name of Jesus applying to Father, Son and Spirit is that it would be contrary to the general teaching of the New Testament. As was seen, the overall biblical witness testifies to a distinction between the three. It would therefore be most unlikely to conclude that Jesus was in some way cryptically referring to Himself as all three in this one verse. (29) It should be observed that there were long established Greek and Semitic traditions in existence in the first century milieu that understood the phrase ‘in the name of’ to have an extensive variety of meaning. (30)
For example, Matthew 10:40-42 speaks of receiving a prophet ‘in the name of’ a prophet, a righteous man ‘in the name of’ a righteous man etc, clearly meaning to receive such a one because of who they were and not by simply receiving them with the words “I greet you in the name of a prophet.” (31) In Rabbinical literature, it is recorded that pagan slaves were expected to receive a baptism ‘in the name of slavery’ (understood to mean ‘being immersed into’) when coming under the roof of a Jewish family. (32) Samaritans would circumcise ‘in the name of Mount Gerizim’ (understood to mean that an obligation to the God of the Samaritans who is worshipped there was expected). (33) In the light of the historical context surrounding the phrase ‘in the name of,’ it is therefore quite probable that the pattern in Matthew 28:19 was originally understood to mean something like ‘in the authority of’, (34) or ‘for the sake of’ the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (35) The same can also be said of the book of Acts when it speaks of baptism being administered ‘in Jesus name’. (36) It should also be noticed that the early Church was never bound by precise baptismal formulas which would account for the variations found in the New Testament. (37)
The Trinity and Paganism
It has long been a popular practice in non-Trinitarian circles to draw parallels between the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and the pagan trinities of other religions. (38) It should therefore come as no surprise that Oneness believers also follow this same line of reasoning. (39) However, criticism of this kind is not based on sound reasoning and is really a falsification that has no real parallels with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity at all. Bowman observes that while it is true that pagan civilisations did indeed believe in triadic deities, these were always three separate god’s (as in Tritheism) who were often the three most eminent god’s at the top of a pantheon of other lesser god’s (as in Polytheism). (40)
The Father and the Son in Oneness Theology
In Trinitarian thought the Father and the Son speak to one another and defer to one another as distinct Persons. Oneness theology however, argues that the Father and the Son are not two Persons but rather the two natures within the one Person – Jesus Christ. (41) The Son is considered to be the humanity of Christ, (the obvious implication being that the Son is not God) (42) and the Father (who is called Jesus) is considered to be the divinity of Christ. (43) Therefore, as unusual as it may sound, Jesus is both the Father and the Son who sent His Son, and the Son who was obedient to the Father who sent Him. Furthermore, He was also the Son who prayed to and heard the Father and the Father who heard and answered the Son. (44) The many biblical texts that clearly show relationship between the Father and the Son, such as John 14:16; 17:5 etc., are often interpreted as being a type of illusion assumed by Christ so that He could fulfil His role as mediator to man. (45)
In addition to this, Oneness theologians often argue that the many salutations contained within the New Testament Epistles (Eph. 1:2; Phil, 1:2; Thess. 1:1 etc.) do not refer to distinctions between the Father and the Son as Trinitarians have traditionally understood them to mean, but rather ‘prove’ that Jesus is indeed the Father. (46) This interpretation is arrived at by the use of the Greek word kai. Bernard points out that kai (often translated “and”) should be translated “even,” so that the salutations would read: “from God our Father, even our Lord Jesus Christ.” (47)
The Trinitarian Understanding of the Father and the Son
There are several reasons why the above argumentation is grounded on faulty reasoning. The burden of proof is upon Oneness adherents to show why it is that the Scriptures never distinguish between Jesus and the Son; indeed, the Scriptures refer to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (Matt. 4:3; Mark 1:20; Luke 1:35; John 3:18 etc.), and most clearly in 2 John 3 where He is referred to as “the Son of the Father.” But never once is Jesus identified as the Father. (48) It should be observed that the preposition ‘of ‘ in 2 John 3 expresses the idea of Christ being of the same nature as the Father but also differentiates between the Father and the Son as distinct Persons. (49) However, despite the clear teaching of the Scriptures, Oneness theologians maintain that any texts that seem to imply a relationship of Persons is purely illusionary and in reality, it is actually Christ’s two natures that are in operation within the one Person. This kind of interpretation casts an air of doubt and uncertainty upon the many interactions between the Father and the Son in the Gospels. (50)
Particularly troublesome to this Oneness interpretation are the many texts that speak of the love that exists between the two Persons (John 3:35; 17:23-26; 14:31 etc.). As Bowman rightly observes, natures cannot love, only persons can. (51) This is also true of the many passages where Jesus speaks to His Father and the Father speaks to Him; natures cannot speak to one another, only persons can. (52) Concerning the Greek word kai, Boyd readily admits that it can indeed mean ‘even’ when context demands it to be such (e.g. Gal. 1:4; Col. 1:6). (53) However, the context of the salutations that Oneness scholars argue should be translated ‘even’ clearly point to a distinction between the Father and the Son and should therefore be translated as ‘and’. For example, Boyd refers to Romans 1:7 as a typical salutation whereby Oneness adherents blur the distinctions between the two divine Persons. But an unbiased reading of the immediate context clearly shows Christ to be one who is distinguished from the Father (His Son 1:1-4; through Jesus Christ 1:8-9). (54) As well as being distinct from the Father this does not exclude the Son from being God ( Heb. 1:8; 1 John 5:20). The Son should therefore be equally honoured as God in the same way that the Father is honoured as God (John 5:23).
Jesus as the Father
Brumback observes how Isaiah 9:6 is the one verse in the entire Bible that gives Christ the title ‘Father’ and is therefore seized upon by Oneness adherents as ‘proof’ that Jesus is God the Father. ((55) ) It should first be observed that this verse can also be translated ‘Father of eternity’, or ‘Father of the ages’ (even Oneness theologians will agree to this). (56) The Hebrew word for Father (av or ab) is used in accordance with Hebrew and Aramaic custom where the one who possesses something is said to be the father of it. For example, Abialbon (2 Sam. 23:31), ‘father of strength’, means ‘strong’; Abiasaph (Ex. 6:24), ‘father of gathering’, means ‘gatherer’. Therefore, in keeping with the Hebrew custom, the title ‘everlasting Father’ is simply declaring the eternal nature of Christ. (57) This particular understanding of the passage is perfectly consistent with the Trinitarian belief that Christ is the one true eternal God, who transcends all time and eternity (c.f. Rev. 1:8, 17). (58)
Another very common proof text used in an attempt to ‘prove’ that Jesus is the Father is John 14:7-11. (59) In one sense it is perfectly legitimate to say that some manifestation of the Father is seen in Christ because He shares and reflects the same Divine nature (c.f. Heb. 1:3) (60) But to conclude that Jesus is Himself the Father is to go beyond what the text actually says and ignore both the context of the chapter and the consistent title of Son of God used throughout John’s Gospel. Contrary to what Oneness believers think about this passage of Scripture, Jesus does not say “I am the Father”, but simply declares the mutual indwelling that exists between the Father and Himself (vv. 10-11). (61) The immediate context of this passage strongly testifies to Christ’s distinctiveness from the Father (vv. 2, 6-7, 12, 16, 20-21, 26, 28 see especially v. 23 “We” and “Our”).
Jesus as the Holy Spirit
2 Corinthians 3:17
A classic prooftext that is cited to argue the Oneness belief that Jesus is the Holy Spirit is 2 Corinthians 3:17 where the Lord is described as the Spirit. (62) Even outside Oneness circles, some scholars also interpret this text to mean that Christ is the Spirit. (63) However, it can be demonstrated that there are a number of significant reasons why this interpretation is inaccurate. It should be noted that this verse does not say “Jesus is the Spirit”; the Oneness view would perhaps be more convincing if this was the case, but instead, it has to be assumed that the one spoken of as the Lord is a reference to Jesus. (64) Although Paul certainly viewed the activity of the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit very closely, he clearly distinguishes between the two in verses 3-6 of the same chapter. Paul also distinguishes between Jesus and the Spirit immediately after stating that the Lord is the Spirit when he calls the Spirit the Spirit of the Lord. As Boyd states: “Paul…is clearly making some distinction between “the Lord” and “the Spirit of the Lord” who is also “Lord.” (65)
In context, the passage is concerned with the Lord to whom Moses turns to in Exodus 34:33ff and the Apostle Paul’s allegorising of that event in Israel’s history. The shining but veiled face of Moses representing the old covenant, is contrasted with the new covenant of the Spirit. Therefore, for Paul to refer to the Spirit as the Lord to whom those under the new covenant experience the presence of, is to make an identification with Yahweh God of the Old Testament to whom Moses turned. (66) This identification of the Spirit as Yahweh God, the Lord, is perfectly consistent with Trinitarian belief in the full Personhood and Deity of the Spirit.
Another popular prooftext used in arguing that Jesus is the Holy Spirit is Romans 8:9-11. The first thing that can be said of this text is that the phrase “The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus…” immediately suggests a distinction between Jesus and the Spirit. Dodd shows how Paul is not identifying Christ with the Holy Spirit as one and the same Person, but rather the apparent equation of Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, and Christ in you, is merely a typical way in which Paul viewed the activity of the Spirit in the life of the believer as being closely associated with the presence of Christ Himself. (67) This is in perfect consistency with the fact that the early Christians were a fellowship who lived their life in the Spirit, and realised that their experience of the Spirit in their life of faith and worship would naturally bring them into close relationship with Christ, whereby His presence would be made manifest. (68) Paul, therefore, is simply stating that wherever the Spirit of God is present in the life of the believer something of Christ is indeed present in the Person of the Holy Spirit, but this by no means blurs Christ and the Spirit into one Person. (69)
The Pre-existence of the Son of God
Although Oneness Pentecostals profess to be firm believers in the full Deity of Jesus Christ this cannot be consistently affirmed. Because the Oneness position holds that the Son is the mere created human nature of Jesus Christ, they also deny that He pre-existed in eternity, with the Father, but instead came into being at His birth in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. (70) Passages that clearly speak of God creating through Christ (implying distinction) are often interpreted as God creating all things simply with the envisaged Son in mind. (71) In addition to this view, some Oneness writers simply assert that Christ pre-existed as the Father, but not as the Son. (72)
The prologue of John’s Gospel is a strong witness to the truth of the pre-existence of the Son. (73) John 1:1a clearly states the pre-existence of Christ as the eternal Word (logos) by the use of the phrase en arch en ho logos, (“In the beginning was the Word”). Tenney notes how the use of the verb en (which in the imperfect tense implies eternal existence) is significant in this passage because it brings out the importance of the word arch. The phrase could therefore be literally translated: “When the beginning began, the Word was already there.” (74) Having declared the eternal pre-existence of the Word, John 1:1b specifies the relationship and distinctiveness that exists between the Word and the Father with the word pros (“with God”). The sense in which John uses pros indicates an active intercommunion whereby the Persons exist face to face with one another in eternal relationship. (75) The statement in verse 2 further emphasises John 1:1a and b. As well as being distinct from God, the Word Himself is also explicitly called God (John 1:1c), and of course God is personal not impersonal. The Word, therefore, is all that God is, including His full Personhood. (76) The full Deity of the Word is also reinforced in verse 3 where the work of creation is ascribed to Him (c.f. Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:10). However, although the Word is identified as God, this does not mean that He pre-existed as God the Father before His incarnation, as it is occasionally suggested by some Oneness exponents. (77) Brown notes that as well as the obvious relationship that exists between the Father and the Word in John, the omission of the article in John 1:1c further avoids any suggestion of personal identification of the Word as the Father, but at the same time avoids any polytheistic connotations. (78)
The personalistic nature of the Word is further seen in verse 14 where the Word is described as coming forth from the Father (not as the Father) and becoming incarnate. It should be observed that the verse does not suggest that the Word only becomes distinct at this point in time because as was seen, this same Word is spoken of as distinct from the Father from the very beginning of John’s Gospel. (79) The testimony of John the Baptist in verse 15 (repeated in v. 30) provides further evidence to the theme of the Son’s pre-existence. It is notable that reference to Jesus existing “before” John is made in the light of the fact that the Baptist was born before Him, and consequently provides an unmistakable allusion to the pre-existence of the Son. The testimony by John the Baptist in the wider context of chapter 1 also invalidates the Oneness explanation of the Son merely existing as the Father prior to the incarnation due to the fact that John identifies this one who was before him as the Lamb of God (v. 29) and the Son of God (v. 34). (80)
Furthermore, the Oneness attempt to explain the Baptists testimony as the Son pre-existing in God’s foreknowledge is not convincing because verse 15 (as does the entire prologue) is obviously saying something profound about the Son. But there would be nothing profound about saying the Son only existed in the mind of God because even John the Baptist himself, along with the rest of humanity, can be said to exist in this limited sense. (81) The unique relationship that is shared between the Father and the Son is further expressed by the phrase “Who is in the bosom of the Father” (v.18). Commenting on this, Dr. Beasely-Murray recognises that the phrase denotes the “closest fellowship with Him” (the Father) and although the primary reference is speaking of the incarnate Son of God and God the Father, the context of the prologue naturally implies that this relationship extends to the Son’s pre-existent and post-resurrection relationship with the Father. (82)
The Trinity, Oneness, and the History of the Church
Oneness believers argue that the New Testament Christians and the early Church Fathers were Modalistic in their beliefs on the nature of God, (83) and that this pattern continued as the true doctrine of God until apostate leaders (principally the apologists of the second century) who held to the doctrine of the Trinity prevailed against them and drove them out. (84) But despite the claims of Oneness writers there is ample evidence to show that the early Church had a simple belief in one God existing in three Persons. Strong notes how belief in the Trinity was implicitly held by the apostolic Church and the New Testament writers in the first century, but was only formulated and crystallised as an explicit doctrine when abhorrent beliefs concerning the nature of God arose. (85) Before this, none of the New Testament writers saw the need to formulate a thorough definition of the God’s triunity. Wainwright observes that another reason why the early Christians did not define their belief in the nature of God was that they were more concerned with the activity of God in the work of salvation rather than attempting to systemise a finely tuned theology. (86) They are simply content to present information about the Deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit which would naturally cause later theologians to reflect on God’s unity in relation to the distinctions that exist between Father, Son, and Spirit. (87)
It took the Church over three centuries to grapple with these paradoxical issues and come to a more thorough and systematic understanding of God eternally existing as Three Persons. (88) Because of this significant time period, Oneness theologians often feel that they have further valid criticism against the doctrine of the Trinity as being the invention of a late Church (89) But Lagoon notes how Oneness Pentecostals have no right to criticise Trinitarians on this point because the Oneness belief itself has been steadily evolving throughout the 20th century. (90) When the Scriptures and the ancient writings of the Fathers are examined, and taken at face value, it soon becomes apparent that the Church has always believed in the basic fundamental truths that are foundational to the doctrine of the Trinity. (91)
The New Testament Witness to the Trinity
In the Apostolic era a definite pattern of thought was moving towards a triadic understanding of God. This can be discerned from the consistent threefold pattern that runs throughout the New Testament record. Often, this pattern of thinking appears to be an unconscious one, because in most occurrences the New Testament writers simply state belief in the Father, Son, and Spirit while at the same time betray almost no awareness of any problem as to how these three exist in relation to one another within God’s unity. (92) Kelly recognises that throughout the New Testament there are many Trinitarian patterns where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are spoken of in such an incidental way that it appears that this type of language was already commonly accepted in the early Church and deeply embedded within Christian thought from the very beginning. (93) Threefold patterns are clearly discerned in numerous passages (for example: Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 1:21f.; 13:14; 1 Cor. 6:11; 12:4-6; 1 Pet. 1:2; 4:14; Eph. 1:3-14; Heb. 10:29; Jude 20f.). (94) Kelly observes that “The Trinitarian ground-plan obtrudes itself obstinately throughout, and its presence is all the more striking because more often than not there is nothing in the context to necessitate it.” (95)
The supreme biblical pattern of Trinitarian thought, as with Christ’s pre-existence, appears in the Johannine testimony. In several passages the three Divine Persons are mentioned together (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:13-15; 20:21-22; 1 John 4:2; 4:13-14). (96) In typical Trinitarian fashion, John does not hesitate to call Jesus God (John 1:1,18; 20:28; 1 John 5:20), but at the same time, the relationship between the Father and the Son is clearly evident, more so than in any other New Testament writing. It is therefore apparent that John was aware of the problem that Christians were faced with when reconciling God’s unity with the three distinct Persons. (97) As Wainwright notes, John was not inventing the Trinity, but was merely explaining an association that was already recognised and accepted amongst the first Christian believers. (98)
The Witness of the Early Church Fathers to the Trinity
The writings of the early Church Fathers also give evidence to show how common it was for the early Christian community to continue to recognise clear distinctions within the one God. Throughout his first letter Clement speaks of the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit in such a way that can only imply some sort of distinction. For example, he writes of Christ calling His people through the Holy Spirit to live righteously. (99) Immediately after this exhortation, in the next paragraph, the Father is specifically referred to. (100) Clement distinguishes Christ from God (the Father) as being sent by God and from God as the Apostles were sent from Christ. (101) Following this, he goes on to use a three fold Trinitarian pattern whereby he speaks of “God’s will…, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ…” and “the confidence of the Holy Spirit.” (102) This kind of Trinitarian language appears most significantly in two passages cited by Prestige: “For as God lives, and as the Lord Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Spirit (Who are the faith and hope of the elect)…”, (103) and “Do we not have one God and one Christ and one Spirit of God poured out upon us?” (104)
Bernard names Ignatius (105) as being a leader in the early Church who stressed Modalism. (106) However, throughout his book Bernard does not provide any references from Ignatius to support this theory. As with Clement, a Trinitarian pattern of writing can be discerned in Ignatius’ letters. For example, he declares how “…Our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit.” (107) When writing to the Magnesians he encourages them to prosper “…in the Son, and Father and Spirit.” (108) Fortman notes that the most famous threefold pattern declares: “You are stones of a temple, prepared beforehand for the building of God the Father, hoisted up to the heights by the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, using as a rope the Holy Spirit.” (109)
Despite the apparent orthodox statements of the Oneness movement, reflected in their strict monotheism and confession that Jesus Christ is the one true God manifest in the flesh, Oneness believer’s have made it abundantly clear that they reject the doctrine of the Trinity as pagan and unscriptural, and consequently place themselves outside historic Christianity. Although Trinitarians understand ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ as referring to the Persons of the Trinity, Oneness theologians reject the idea of any plurality in the Godhead and teach the ancient Modalistic doctrine whereby Father, Son and Spirit are three ways in which the one Person (the Father) manifests Himself. It has been noted that the most obvious problem with this view is that it is contrary to the general teaching of the New Testament, as well as the clear relationships that exist between the Three.
The Oneness view of the Trinity is particularly defective in its teaching on the Person of Jesus Christ. The denial of the personal and distinct pre-existence of the Son has been shown to be without foundation from the prologue of John alone. It has been demonstrated that the assertion that the Son is to be identified as the humanity of Christ and the Father, who is called Jesus, as the Divinity of Christ is unscriptural. The Scriptures never distinguish between Jesus and the Son but rather refer to Jesus’ identity as ‘the Son of God’, or ‘the Son of the Father’; and not once is Jesus identified as the Father. Oneness Christology, therefore actually confuses Christ’s Person, and detracts from His full Deity as the Son of God. In Trinitarian thought the Father and the Son speak to one another, love one another, and defer to one another as distinct Persons; something that only Persons, and not natures can do.
The Trinitarian position maintains that the Son should be equally honoured as God in the same way that the Father is honoured as God. Proof texts that Oneness believers offer to support their position (Matt. 28:19; Isa. 9:6; John 14:7-11; 2 Cor. 3:17; Rom. 8:9-11) have actually shown to be at variance with their theology rather than be in support of it. The Oneness claim that the New Testament Christians and the early Church Fathers were Modalistic in their beliefs on the nature of God has been proven to be historically misleading. It has been demonstrated that although Trinitarian belief was not always consciously taught in an explicit manner, there is every evidence that the basic fundamental truths that are foundational to the doctrine of the Trinity were certainly held by first century Christians and the early Church Fathers alike, and have continued to remain as foundational to this present day.
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Dodd, C.H. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans. London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1946.
Dunn, J.D.G. Christology in the Making, 2nd.ed. London: SCM Press, 1989.
Fortman, E.J. The Triune God. London: Hutchinson and Co., 1972.
Grudem, W. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.
Guthrie, D. New Testament Theology. Leicester: IVP, 1985.
Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Creeds. London: Longmans Green and Co., 1950.
…….Early Christian Doctrine, 5th, ed. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1980.
Lightfoot J.B. and Hermer, J.R. The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd. ed. Leicester: Apollos, 1989.
Luck, J.C. Second Corinthians. Chicago: Moody Press, 1959.
Milne, B. Know the Truth. Leicester: IVP, 1982.
Montgomery, J. Three Yet One. Ireland: Home Bible Studies, nd.
Prestige, G.L. God in Patristic Thought. London: S.P.C.K., 1975.
Strong, A.H. Systematic Theology. Vally Forge: Judson Press, 1907.
Tenney, M.C. The Expositors Bible Commentary, vol. 9, John-Acts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.
Thayer, J.H. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977.
Wainwright, A.W. The Trinity in the New Testament. London: SPCK, 1962.
(1) G.A. Boyd, Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity (Grand Rapids:baker Book House, 1992), 10. According to Boyd’s statistics, Oneness believers constitute the third largest anti-Trinitarian movement in the United States and the world, numbering within the region of over one million in the United States and nearly five million worldwide. Although there are hundreds of different Oneness denominations, the largest is the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) having roughly half a million members in America and about the same number worldwide… return to text
(2) D. K. Bernard, The Oneness of God (U.S.A: Word Aflame Press, 1989), 321. return to text
(3) R.M. Bowman, Jr., “Oneness Pentecostalism and the Trinity”, Forward. Fall 1985, 23. return to text
(4) Boyd, 10. return to text
(5) Ibid. return to text
(6) Bernard, 264ff. return to text
(7) R.B. Graves, The God of Two Testaments (U.S.A: Robert Graves and James Turner), 5 introduction. return to text
(8) Bernard, 321. return to text
(9) Bernard, 233. Despite the fundamental Trinitarian belief of one God, Oneness believers are absolutely convinced that Trinitarians are really tritheists and will often cite verses from the Old Testament, such as the Shema of Deutronomy 6:4, to refute tritheism! Graves, in the first paragraph of Chapter II of his book, quotes Trinitarian scholar, Norman Geisler as saying: “Jesus of the New Testament is Jehovah of the Old Testament”[emphasis his]. Graves calls this statement an “astonishing claim” that is heard “from time to time” as though it was a truth that Trinitarians do not usually affirm! return to text
(10) Ibid., 142-143. Bernard admits on pages 318 and 322 of his book that the modern Oneness view of God is basically equivalent with ancient Modalistic Monarchianism. return to text
(11) J. Paterson, The Real Truth About Baptism in Jesus Name (U.S.A: Pentecostal Publishing House, 1953), 12. return to text
(12) R. Sabin, “Oneness News”, vol. IV,4-5., n.d., 4. return to text
(13) Boyd, 65. return to text
(14) Bowman, 23. return to text
(15) For over a hundred years the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Jehovah’s Witness’s have misrepresented the doctrine of the Trinity with such statements as “Three God’s in one person” (Zions Watch Tower, July 1882, 369), “Three God’s in one” (Riches, 1936, 185), “If He is One Jehovah, then could He be three God’s, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost as the Trinitarians teach?” (Watchtower, April 1, 1970, 210). return to text
(16) Bowman, 23. return to text
(17) B. Milne, Know the Truth (Leicester: IVP, 1982), 62-63. return to text
(18) D. M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1947), 135. return to text
(19) G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London: S.P.C.K., 1975), 157. return to text
(20) Ibid., 284ff. return to text
(21) Bowman, 23. return to text
(22) J. Montgomery, Three Yet One (Ireland: Home Bible Studies, n.d.), 14. return to text
(23) W. Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 253-254. return to text
(24) E.J. Fortman, The Triune God (London: Hutchinson and Co., 1972), 163-164. See also: Milne, 62. Montgomery, 14, and Boyd, 62-63. return to text
(25) Boyd, 59-60. Boyd also points out how Oneness leaders Sabin and Reeves, who are especially critical of non-biblical Trinitarian language, are fond of using additional unbiblical phrases themselves. Words such as ‘theocarnationalism’, ‘Omnipresent Spirit Substance’, and ‘Word-Image-Son’ are used to describe their position. return to text
(26) Ibid. return to text
(27) S.M. Burgess and G. McGee, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 651. The importance of ‘the name’ is absolutely central to Oneness theology and history. The historical record shows that in April 1913, at a Pentecostal camp meeting in Arroyo Seco, near Los Angeles, a revelation came to a man by the name of J.G. Sheppe who had heard a ser
mon preached at the meeting on baptism, with the observation that the early Church baptised in Jesus name only and not in the baptismal passage of Matthew 28:19. The Oneness movement (originally called the “New Issue” and “Jesus Only” ) officially broke away from the Assemblies of God and established itself in an official organisational form in 1917 (644). return to text
(28) D. Bernard, The New Birth (U.S.A: Word Aflame Press, 1984), 170-180. return to text
(29) Boyd, 140-141. return to text
(30) G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 90. return to text
(31) Ibid. return to text
(32) Ibid., 90-91. return to text
(33) Ibid., 91. return to text
(34) J. H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), 447. return to text
(35) Beaseley-Murray, 91. return to text
(36) Ibid., 100. return to text
(37) D.A.Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, Matthew-Luke (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 598. As well as the difference between the passage in Matthew and those found in Acts, it is interesting to note that there are definite differences even in Acts alone, since there does not seem to be any precise formula for baptism at all. Acts 2:38 has “on [epi] the name of Jesus Christ”; Acts 8:16 and 19:5 have “into [eis] the name of the Lord Jesus; and Acts 10:48 simply states believers were baptised “in [en] the name of the Lord,” with some manuscripts adding “Jesus Christ” and others “Jesus.” It is therefore obvious that the early Church did not place any real emphasis on an exact formula due to the fact that salvation was obtained through faith in Christ alone and not by the reciting of particular words. Boyd, 144-145. return to text
(38) For example, leader of The Way International, Victor Paul Wierwille argued in chapter one of his book Jesus Christ is Not God, that the Trinity was a pagan doctrine taken from other trinities such as the Greek triad of Zeus, Athena, and Appollo and especially the Hindu trinity of Brahama, Vishnu, and Shiva. Jehovah’s Witnesses also hold to a similar conviction. return to text
(39) Bernard, Oneness, 264-266. return to text
(40) R.M. Bowman, Why You Should Believe in the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 43. return to text
(41) R. Sabin, “The Man Jesus Christ,” tract (St. Paul, Minn. 1986). return to text
(42) G. Magee, Is Jesus in the Godhead or is the Godhead in Jesus? (Missouri: Word Aflame Press, 1988), 21. return to text
(43) Bernard, Oneness,126-127. return to text
(44) Boyd, 35. return to text
(45) R. Sabin “The Gender Gap”, tract (St. Paul Minn. Oneness Ministries1987). return to text
(46) Bernard, Oneness, 211. return to text
(48) Boyd, 55. return to text
(49) C. Brumback, God in Three Persons (Cleveland: Pathaway Press, 1959), 67. return to text
(50) Boyd, 182. return to text
(51) Bowman, Oneness, 25. return to text
(52) Ibid. return to text
(53) Boyd, 78-79. return to text
(54) Ibid., 79. The immediate context of all the salutations clearly indicate distinction between the Father and the Son. return to text
(55) Brumback, 82. return to text
(56) Paterson, 12. return to text
(57) Bowman, Oneness, 23-24. return to text
(58) Ibid. return to text
(59) Graves, 64-65, Bernard, 68, Magee, 17-18. return to text
(60) A. Barnes, Barnes Notes on Old & New Testaments, Luke and John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 327-328. return to text
(61) Boyd, 73. return to text
(62) Magee, 25. return to text
(63) G.C. Luck, Second Corinthians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1959), 38-39. Luck explicitly asserts: “The Lord Jesus Christ is said to be that Spirit” and cross references the passage with 1Corinthians 15:45 in further support of his interpretation. return to text
(64) Boyd, 125. return to text
(65) Ibid. return to text
(66) J.D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, 2nd.ed. (London: SCM Press, 1989), 143-144. (67) C.H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1946), 123-124.return to text
(68) Ibid. return to text
(69) Boyd, 127. return to text
(70) Bernard, Oneness, 104-106. return to text
(71) M. Springfield, Jesus the Almighty (Portland: Parry Mail Advertising Service, 1972), 19. return to text
(72) Bernard, Oneness,183, Magee, 37. return to text
(73) Because of the magnitude of this particular subject scriptural evidence for Christ’s pre-existence will be limited to John’s Prologue. Other significant texts concerning this subject include: John 6:33, 38, 8:58, 17:5, 24, Colossians 1:15-20, Philipians 2:5-11, Hebrews 1:2- 3. return to text
(74) M.C. Tenney, The Expositors Bible Commentary, vol. 9, John-Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 29. return to text
(75) C. Brown, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 3 (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1978), 1204-1205. Interestingly, the same phrase is used again in John 13:3 when the Apostle John speaks of Christ leaving the earth and returning to His Father. return to text
(76) Boyd, 95. return to text
(77) Magee, 37. return to text
(78) R.E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, I-XII (New York: Doubleday, 1966), 24. return to text
(79) Boyd, 95-96. return to text
(80) Ibid., 96. return to text
(81) Ibid., 96-97. return to text
(82) G.R. Beasley-Murray, John (Waco: Word Books, 1987), 16. return to text
(83) Bernard, Oneness, 236-240. return to text
(84) W. Chalfant, Ancient Champions of Oneness: A History of the True Church of Jesus Christ (U.S.A: Word Aflame Press, 1982), 35. Chalfant portrays the apologists of the second century in very grim light indeed, by calling their task “evil”, and “perverse”. return to text
(85) A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Vally Forge: Judson Press, 1907), 304. return to text
(86) A.W. Wainwright, The Trinity in the New Testament (London: SPCK, 1962), 6. return to text
(87) D. Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1985), 112. return to text
(88) J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine, 5th, ed. (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1980), 88. The doctrine of the Trinity was formally established at the council of Constantinople in 381. return to text
(89) Bernard, Oneness, 237, 245. return to text
(90) S. Lagoon, “What About the Oneness Pentecostals?”, part 2, The Discerner. vol. X1V, No. 11, Jul-Aug-Sept, 1994, 4. It is also interesting to observe that while Oneness historians criticise the doctrine of the Trinity on account of it being formulated as a doctrine in the fourth century they hold to other aspects of historic Christianity that went through a similar historical development. For example, the New Testament canon was not agreed upon until the fourth century and the doctrine of the two natures of Christ was not significantly settled until the fifth century at the council of Chalcedon in 451. Bowman, Oneness, 26. return to text
(91) Lagoon, 3. return to text
(92) Wainwright, 248. return to text
(93) J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (London: Longmans Green and Co., 1950), 23. return to text
(94) Ibid. Kelly cites 34 New Testament passages that he feels have a clear and significant threefold Trinitarian pattern. return to text
(95) Ibid., 24. return to text
(96) Wainwright, 260-261. return to text
(97) Ibid., 260-264. return to text
(98) Ibid., 265. return to text
(99) J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Hermer, The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd. ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1989). 1Clement 22. Lightfoot and Hermer point to the widespread agreement amongst historians in placing this letter about A.D. 95 or 96. return to text
(100) Ibid., 23. return to text
(101) Ibid., 42:1-2. return to text
(102) Ibid., 42:2-3. return to text
(103) Ibid., 58:2. Cited by Prestige, 87. return to text
(104) Ibid., 44:6. Ibid. return to text
(105) Lightfoot places the date for Ignatius’ letter at approximately A.D. 110. return to text
(106) Bernard, Oneness, 237. return to text
(107) Ephesians 18:2. return to text
(108) Magnesians, 13:2. Cited by Fortman, 39. return to text
(109) Ephesians 9:1. Cited by Fortman, 39-40. return to text