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Oneness Theology (Modalism)[1]

 Oneness churches are characterized by and go by many names such as Jesus Only, Apostolic church, Oneness Pentecostal[2] etc. Today, the largest Oneness denomination is the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI). All Oneness advocates reject the Trinity. Rather they believe God is unitarian or unipersonal (one person). The name of the one God is “Jesus,” who is both the Father/Holy Spirit and Son. Oneness advocates claim that Jesus has two natures (or modes, manifestations, roles, etc.), divine as the Father/Holy Spirit and human as the “non-divine,” “non-eternal” Son, whose life started in Bethlehem. In this sense, the “Son” was created in the womb of Mary and is not eternal. In the Oneness doctrinal system then, the terms “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” are not three persons, but rather the three roles or modes in which Jesus manifested.

Although not all Oneness advocates agree on every point of Christology, all forms are a clear and major departure from biblical orthodoxy. Oneness doctrine rejects the personhood, deity, and incarnation of the Son. Many Oneness denominations also reject that justification is through faith alone, not by works, by teaching that the work of water baptism is necessary for salvation (e.g., UPCI). 

The chief Oneness Christological divergences from that of the biblical teachings are as follows:

 

  • Oneness Christology denies the unipersonality of the Son, Jesus Christ.

 

  • Oneness Christology denies that the person of the “Son” is God. As stated, Oneness theology teaches that Jesus’ divine nature represents the Father and Holy Spirit, but not the Son, that is, the “Son” is not God; the Son is merely the human nature/mode of the unitarian deity, Jesus.[3]

 

  • Oneness Christology denies the preexistence and incarnation of the person of the Son and His role as the agent of creation, hence, the Creator of all things.[4]By denying the preexistence of the person of the Son of God, Oneness doctrine rejects the incarnation of the divine Son holding to the erroneous notion that it was Jesus as the Father, not the Son, who came down and wrapped Himself in flesh (while not actually becoming flesh), and that flesh body was called “Son.”[5]

 

  • Oneness Christology claims that Jesus is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (same person), hence denying the concept of the Trinity[6] Oneness theology is “unitarian” seeing God as a unipersonal deity.  

 

Since Oneness theology maintains that only Jesus as the Father is God (for “Son” only represents the humanity of Jesus), it clearly denies the Trinity and deity and preexistence of the Son. As said, God is defined from a unitarian perspective: Only the Father is God (i.e., Jesus’ divine nature). Clearly, Oneness theology is heterodox embracing a false Jesus, different from the Jesus of biblical revelation: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father” (1 John 2:23). Oneness doctrine indeed denies both the Father and the Son.

 Response: The three weakest points of Oneness theology are as follows:

 1) The places where Jesus interacts with the Father especially where He prays to the Father and where the Father loves Jesus (Matt. 3:16-17; Luke 10:21-22; John 10:17; 17:1ff.).

2) The places in the OT and NT that teach the preexistence of the person of the Son (the angel of the LORD appearances; Gen. 19:24; Isa. 9:6; Dan. 7:9-14; Mal. 5:2 et al.; John 1:1; 3:13; 6:38; 16:28; 17:5; Phil. 2:6-11; Heb. 1:10-12; Rev. 1:8, 17; 2:8; 22:13).

This would include the places that present the person of the Son as the Creator of all things (John 1:3, 10; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2, 10-12).

3) The places that present the person of the Son as God, and distinct from God the Father (Mark 14:61-64; John 1:1, 18; 5:17-18; 8:24, 58 et al.; 10:28-30; 17:5; Phil. 2:6-11; Titus 2:13[7]; Heb. 1:6, 8-12; 1 John 5:20; 2 John 1:3; Rev. 5:13-14 et al.). Moreover, in NT, there are numerous passages where all three persons are shown as distinct from each other, either in the same passage or same context (esp. Matt. 28:19; Luke 10:21-22; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 2:18; Titus 3:5-7; 1 Pet. 1:2; Jude 1:21-22). The NT explicitly teaches that Jesus is the “Son” of God, and not once is He called or identified as the “Father”[8] (cf. 2 John 1:3).

Further, consider this, Trinitarians, not Oneness believers, conducted all of the major revivals worldwide. Virtually all of the great biblical scholars, theologians, and Greek grammarians, historically have been and presently are Trinitarian, not Oneness—for obvious reasons. The church has branded Oneness theology as heretical since the days of Noetus at the end of the second century. Moreover, when it found its way in the twentieth century, departing from the Trinitarian Pentecostals, it was again rejected by the church.

There are many more biblical objections that could be mentioned. But these do suffice in showing that the Bible affirms that God is triune, and militates against Oneness unitarianism. Modalism rips the heart out of Christianity—it denies Christ by misrepresenting Him. To be sure, Modalism embraces another Jesus, another Gospel, and another Spirit. There is only one true God. The Apostle John was very concerned as to the false beliefs and teachings of Jesus Christ, as he gives this warning:

“Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23).

 

By promoting the Son as a temporary mode or a role of the unitarian deity whose life started in Bethlehem, denies the Son, as well as the Father.

  1. Oneness theology rejects the doctrine of the Trinity, for they are unitarian (i.e., believes that God exists as one person—unipersonal).
  2. Oneness theology rejects the eternality of the person of the Son.
  3. Oneness theology rejects that the Son was the actual Creator.
  4. Oneness theology rejects the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
  5. Oneness theology distorts and thus rejects the biblical concept of the Son being Mediator (Intercessor) between the Father and men (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5). For if Jesus is the Father, then, between whom would He Mediate since by definition a mediator/intercessor represents two distinct parties, other than Himself. Biblically, only Jesus, God the Son, can rightfully represent the Father (because He is God a distinct person from the Father), and represent man because He is fully man. Again, in its proper sense, a “mediator” is one who is other than or distinct from the parties, which are being mediated. However, since in Oneness theology Jesus is both Father and Son, Jesus cannot be properly “Mediator” between two parties–God the Father and man.
  6. Many Oneness churches especially the UPCI rejects justification through faith alone by teaching that one must be water baptized (“in the name of Jesus” only) to be saved—with the evidence, as the UPCI teaches, of speaking in other tongues.
  7. Virtually all Oneness churches reject that water baptism should be done in the *triune* formal as instructed by Jesus in Matthew 28:19, rather, as they insist, it should be dome in the name of Jesus only.

 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).

NOTES

[1] Historically, Oneness philosophy first emerged around the early second and early third century being popularized by Noetus of Smyrna and Praxeas (Asia minor). It was also called Modalism since all forms of the Oneness idea saw God has merely appearing in three modes (or roles) as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but not in three persons. Subsequently, Sabellianism became a popular brand Modalism. Sabellianism was coined after its chief proponent, Sebelius, the Libyan priest who came to Rome at the beginning of the third century A.D. However, he taught successive Modalism, which saw the modes as successive, that is, “Jesus” (the name of the unipersonal God) first was the Father in creation, then, the Son in redemption, then the Holy Spirit in regeneration. In distinction to simultaneous Modalism, which teaches that all three modes exist at the same time. But the fact is, fundamentally, all forms historically and today are as unitarian (seeing God as one person), as with Islam’s view of Allah and JWs’ view of Jehovah.

[2] Generally, there are two kinds of “Pentecostal” churches – Oneness (such as the UPCI) and Christian Pentecostal, which are Trinitarian (such as the AOG, Foursquare et al.).          

[3] As defined by the UPCI authority and Oneness author, David Bernard in his most recognized book, The Oneness of God (1983), 99, 103, 252.

[4] Cf. ibid., 103-4; Gordon Magee, Is Jesus in the Godhead or Is The Godhead in Jesus? (1988), 25.

[5] Cf. The Oneness of God, 106, 122.

[6] Cf. The Oneness of God, 57; T. Weisser, Three Persons from the Bible? or Babylon (1983), 2.

[7] Jesus as “the God” is grammatically affirmed at Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1.  

[8] Oneness advocates typically appeal to John 10:30 (“I and the Father are one”). However, as seen above in detail, this passage in its context systematically refutes the Oneness unitarian interpretation and positively affirms the distinction between the Jesus and the Father: “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it back (John 10:17). For more information on John 10:30; 14:9 and other passages used by  Oneness advocates to promote a unitarian Oneness God, see, A Definitive Look at Oneness Theology: In the Light of Biblical Trinitarianism, 4th ed. by Edward L. Dalcour >www.christiandefense.org<             

See Was the Trinity Conceived in the 4th Century?

8 thoughts on “Oneness Theology: Overview

  1. David Brollier says:

    The assumption that Jesus is never referred to as the Father is incorrect. Check out John 14:8-9, “Philip said, ‘Show us the Father and that will be enough.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you such a long time, and yet you have not known Me Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” If you read on, however Jesus goes on to say, “The Father is greater than I.” clearly establishing the Trinitarian concept.

    • Edward Dalcour says:

      First, it is not an assumption- For nowhere did Jesus ever state that He was the same person as the Father, nor did anyone in the NT ever call him Father.

      Your confusing Jesus’ perfectly representing the Father with His identity. And you are pretexting the passage with no consideration of the context of chap. 14 and John’s theology. Also, throughout chap 14 Jesus distinguishes Himself from the Father. So, you appeal to v. 9, to assume Jesus is the person of the Father, but a verses later (v. 23), Jesus clearly affirms His deity as Son in distinction from the Father:

      “Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and MY FATHER will love him, and pros auton eleusometha [‘to him WE will come’] and monēn par’ autw poiēsometha [‘at home with him, WE will Make’].”

      Against the Oneness notion (and v. 9), – Jesus specifically used two first person PLURAL indicative verbs (eleusometha, “We will come” and poiēsometha, “We will make Our”) abode with him.” This is part of chap. 14. Oneness folks like yourself typically cherry-pick passages (esp. with v. 9) out and then pretext into them a modalistic understanding—we call this eisegesis.

      Exegetically:

      John 14:9 Oneness people routinely quote this passage (usually in the same breath with John 10:30), as though it was part of the passage.

      But again Only by removing this passage from the document and immediate context can Oneness teachers posit a modalistic Oneness understanding. There are four exegetical features, which provide a cogent refutation to the Oneness handling of this passage.

      Note the Context: In verse 6 Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” In verse 7, He explains to His disciples that if they “had known” Him they would “have known” the Father also. Jesus then says to His disciples, “From now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Thus, by knowing Him they “have known” and “have seen” the Father (note the parallel: “have known,” “have seen”). Still not understanding (i.e., by knowing Jesus they know and see the Father), Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father” (v. 8). Jesus then reiterates (as a corrective) that by seeing Him they can see, that is, “know” or recognize the invisible Father (v. 9). The context is obvious: by knowing and seeing Jesus (as the only way to the Father; cf. v. 6), they could really see (i.e., know/recognize, cf. John 9:39) the invisible Father (cf. John 1:18; Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 6:16).

      The Son is and has been eternally subsisting as the perfect and “exact representation” (charaktēr) of the very nature (hupostaseōs) of Him (autou, “of Him,” not “as Him”; Heb. 1:3).

      Therefore, when they see Jesus, they “see” the only way to, and an exact representation of, the invisible unseen Father, for Jesus makes Him known, He explains or exegetes Him. In John 1:18, we read: “No one has seen God [the Father] at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (lit. “He has exēgēsato [“lead out, unfold, declare,” Thayer, 1996: 223] Him” (the Father).

      Hence, it is God the Son who is the very image of the invisible Father (cf. Col. 1:15) who brings out, that is, exegetes the Father: “He [Jesus] has made known or brought news of (the invisible God)” (Bauer, 2000: 349). One cannot have the Father except through the Son, Jesus Christ: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23; see also John 17:3).

      Note also that in 14:10, Jesus clearly differentiates Himself from the Father when He declares: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.” To reiterate, the undisputable fact is this: not one time in the New Testament does Jesus (or any other person) state that He Himself is the Father.

      Further, the Father is spirit. Hence When Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” the only thing His disciples literally saw was Jesus’ physical body. Both Oneness believers and Trinitarians agree that the Father is invisible and does not have a physical body. Hence, Jesus could not have meant that by seeing Him they were literally seeing the Father.

      First and third person personal pronouns and verb references: Throughout John 14 and 16 Jesus clearly differentiates Himself from the Father. He does so by using first person personal pronouns (“I,” “Me,” “Mine”) and verb references to refer to Himself and third person personal pronouns (“He,” “Him,” “His”) and verb references to refer to His Father. Notice John 14:16: I will ask [kagō erōtēsō, first person] the Father, and He will give [dōsei, third person] you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:16; also cf. 14:7, 10, 16; etc.). As marked out below, Jesus also differentiates Himself from God the Holy Spirit.

      Lastly, There has never been a recognized biblical scholar, commentator, NT Greek grammar, nor Lexical source that has ever interpreted John 14:9 in a Oneness-unitarian way as you do.- – because neither this text, nor John’s entire theology supports the Oneness idea that Jesus is the same person as the Father.

  2. Max Versluis says:

    I have a friend who is try to understand he trinity. He claims the symbol used by trinitarians is demonic. I found this web page, looked promising to refute Oneness theology. But you have the symbol!!! Its pagan, with pagan origins. Anyways, I would change that symbol. I wont give him this web page…..too bad.

    • Edward Dalcour says:

      If you have a friend who is trying to understand the Trinity, first the worst thing you can you is to confuse him with unclear and erroneous information. Instead, you should focus on the biblical teachings within the text and not use non-biblical philosophy.

      I always say at the onset to one like yourself, who make the incorrect uninformed assertion regarding the triquetra symbol being derived from Wicca, paganism, etc. that that calendar in your office and/or house and/or in the rooms of your children, — are filled with symbols of pagan gods (all days and names of months were named after pagan gods). Thus, any objection to the triquetra as use by Christians would be inconsistent and historically ignorant lacking any meaningful basic research on the triquetra and its origins in religious and non-religious usage.

      In terms of the triquetra (Trinitarian symbol), you should not base an argument on ignorance, and unaccredited internet articles. Primarily, KJV Onlyists and anti-Trinitarian groups (esp. JWs, and unstudied Oneness advocates) chiefly utilize the pagan-triquetra arguments against it. So Christians should strive to do the objective research, in order that they not provide bad untruthful arguments and appear unread.

      In point of fact, The triquetra is a very old symbol and dates back perhaps to around 500 BC. But its actual origins are unknown. Some scholars believe it to be Celtic in origin, and it is sometimes called the Irish Trinity Knot.

      The triquetra symbol is also found in Norse Viking artifacts such as combs and saddles; found on a Norwegian coin from around the 11th cent.; and there is a Japanese form, again with no religious significance. Further, the triquetra has been found on Indian heritage sites that are over 5,000 years old; found on carved stones in Northern Europe dating from A.D. 8th cent. as well as found on early Germanic coins-with no religious significance at all. It is certainly possible that various cultures developed the basic design arrangement independently. But in spite of where or when it first appeared, it has been associated to a vast number of meanings through time.

      However, to early Christians (and many today), the triquetra symbolized the Trinity (one God, three persons). For example in the late 8th cent. Book of Kells was an exemplified manuscript book in Latin containing all four Gospels together with various prefatory texts contained also figures of triquetras. The triquetra symbol has been found in Norwegian churches dating to the 11th century.

      In conclusion, the Triquetra has been used historically by all kinds of groups to mean different things. As with other Christian symbols and Christian holidays (e.g., Christmas, Easter, cross, etc.), we embrace the Christian significance—not its origin. In spite of the (unclear) origins, the Triquetra has a rich meaning that has been used by the early church to signify the Trinity. No Christian used it as a pagan symbol, in the same way no Christian uses a calendar today on their wall to exalt the pagan gods of the days and months it represents—thus, calendars were factually derived from pagan in origins.

      Historically, for Christians, the Triquetra represents the Trinity, not its supposedly pagan origins. And those (like yourself) who object (due to a mass of misinformation) to the Trinitarian symbol, since they do not have a problem with pagan-origins calendars in their homes, do they have a problem with the Apostle Paul’s quotations of pagans writers to make a biblical point—namely, Epimenides of Crete in Titus 1:12 and Acts 17:28 (referring to Zeus); Aratus of Cilicia in Acts 17:28 (also referring to Zeus); and Menander in 1 Cor. 15:33?

      In point of fact, for hundreds of years Christians have been using the triquetra a symbol that proclaims the doctrine of the Trinity.

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