Although the doctrine of the Trinity is presented clearly in the Scripture – plainly: One God revealed in three coequal coeternal distinct persons. However, we must keep in mind that biblically the unregenerate man “cannot” hear the words of God (cf. John 8:47) nor does he have the spiritual ability to come to Christ; he not able to do so (cf. John 6:37-40, 44; Rom. 8:7-8).
Thus, in spite of the arguments of Oneness advocates against the triune God and the the person of Christ, it is the gospel that must be proclaimed to them–, which the power and ordained means of God for setting them free from the darkness of Oneness theology and bringing them to the true Jesus Christ, as He wills.
Oneness devotees are taught assertively that the Trinity is a false pagan doctrine. They commonly misrepresent the Trinity as the belief in three separate Gods. Does this idea sound familiar? Well it should if you have dealt with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and have read Watchtower literature. Jehovah’s Witnesses (and other unitarian groups) broadcast the same assertion against the doctrine of the Trinity.
We shall consider the most frequently cited objections concerning the doctrine of the Trinity; followed by a biblical and logical response. While these objections are considered within the Oneness framework, it should be noted that these arguments are not confined to the Oneness position. That is, most of these criticisms share a common bond with all anti-Trinitarian groups. In fact, many of the anti-Trinitarian assertions are the very ones used by the fourth century heretic Arius of Alexandria, who, as mention earlier, taught that Jesus was created: “There was [a time] when He was not,” Arius proclaimed. Accordingly, the Christian church universally condemned Arius’s teaching first at the Council at Nicaea (A.D. 325).
Interestingly, note this near identical statement to Arius from Oneness authority and author David Bernard: “There was a time when the Son did not exist” (Oneness of God, 105; a simple and clear refutation against Bernard’s anti-Trinitarian assertions is provided below).
The differences between Trinitarian theology and Oneness theology are much more than mere semantics (as many assert). The God that Scripture presents is tri-personal. Scripture presents that the three persons share true intimate loving fellowship with each other before time. The Father shows genuine love by sending His real Son, God the eternal Word; divine Mediator between God the Father and man, to die on the behalf of His people. In contrast is the Oneness unipersonal deity (the Father mode). This God lived before time in absolute solitude, having no loving fellowship, no relationship, or no communication with anyone or anything.
In Oneness-unitarian doctrine, the unipersonal deity (the Father), came down Himself, and put on or wrapped himself in flesh without actually becoming flesh- thus, the Father Himself dwells in the incarnate Christ. The Oneness idea of God, then, temporally manifested in the roles or offices of “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit,” but accordingly these roles are only temporary, they are not features of his real nature.
We can never know this modalistic deity as to his real nature only observe what role or mode he decides to project at any given time. Hence, he is the God of illusions, the pretending God, since these roles, modes, or offices, are not part of his real nature.
Let us now analyze some of the primary objections of the Trinity, which are taught and utilized by millions of Oneness teachers and followers. After which we will then examine the specific arguments postulated by the UPCI’s most prolific voice and writer, David Bernard, from his most popular Oneness doctrinal book, The Oneness of God:
The Trinity is three separate Gods
RESPONSE: This is a typical straw man argument that misrepresents the doctrine of the Trinity by assuming that Trinity means three Gods. The biblical doctrine of the Trinity teaches that there are three coequal, coeternal, coexistence, distinct persons who share the nature of the one God. Three separate Gods is not Trinitarianism, but tritheism, which is how the Mormons view the Godhead!
The Trinity is from Pagan origins
RESPONSE: This is an argument of false cause (misrepresents the cause of something). In pagan constructs, they always worshiped and believed in three separate gods. The Trinity asserts one eternal true God revealed in three distinct inseparable persons. The doctrine of the Trinity is indigenous only to Christianity. The burden of proof rests squarely on those folks who make this kind of assertion—merely asserting something does not prove anything.
Only the Father is the true God:
Malachi 2:10, 1 Corinthians 8:6 teaches that the Father is the divine nature (God) of Jesus.
RESPONSE: We have already dealt with this assertion. This is an argument ad ignorantiam, that is, an argument from ignorance. To say that only the Father is God completely ignores the fact that the Son is also “God.” Jesus’ apostles frequently called the Son theos (“God”) (e.g., Matt. 1:23; John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; 2 Thess. 1:12; 2 Peter 1:1; 1 John 5:20). As observed in detail, in Hebrews 1:8, God the Father directly addresses the Son as ho theos (“the God”).
Reminder: Oneness teachers will agree that Jesus was called “God”; however, as they teach, he was only called “God” when he was acting in the Father mode. This then prompts a most difficult questing for Oneness believers: How can the Father call the Son “God” when in Oneness doctrine the Son (when juxtaposed with the Father in the same context) was merely the man, the human nature of Jesus, which was not God?
The absence of the Holy Spirit in many passages:
For example, in all of Paul’s salutations: “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus” (e.g., Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; etc.).’
RESPONSE: This is yet another argument from ignorance. First, the salutations of Paul clearly grammatically distinguish Jesus and the Father–cf. Sharp rule #5, which state when there are multiple personal nouns in a clause (here, God the Father the Lord Jesus Christ) that are connected by kai (“and”) and the first noun lacks the article, each noun must denote a distinct person (Sharp, 1803: 12-14). Paul’s salutations read (Gal. 1:3 for example): charis humin kai eirēnē apo theou Patros hēmōn kai Kuriou Iēsou Christou, lit., “Grace to you and peace from God Father of us and Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice that there are no articles (“the”) proceeding the two personal nouns- “Father” and “Lord.” Paul includes them in the opening of every one of his epistles (e.g., Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2 (partial); 1 Thess. 1:1 (inverted); 2 Thess. 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4; and Philem. 1:3).
Second, there are many places in Scripture where all three persons are mentioned—in the same verse (e.g., Matt. 28:19; Luke 1:35; 10:21; John chaps. 14-16; Rom. 15:16; 4; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 4:4-6; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5-7; Jude 19-21; etc.). Over sixty-five times the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are mentioned in the same context:
“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).
“For through Him [di’ autou] we both have our access in one [en heni] Spirit to the Father [pros ton patera] (Eph. 2:18; note the different prepositions: dia, en, and pros, which clearly denotes a distinction of persons).
“Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfast of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit. . . . ” (1 Thess. 1:3-5).
“Trinity” is an unbiblical term
RESPONSE: To assume: what is not stated must not be true is an argument from silence. Further, to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true because the exact word “Trinity” is absent from the Bible is self-refuting. For if that kind of reasoning were true, then, by way of argument, it would necessarily follow that Oneness doctrine could not be true. For in the original Hebrew and Greek text Oneness terms like, “manifestations,” “modes,” “offices,” “unipersonal,” “monad,” etc., are not contained in Scripture either. Such reasoning is absurd, of course. For even the Oneness position acknowledges, as has just been demonstrated, that simply because a particular word is not contained in Scripture that we cannot use that term to communicate a truth of God.
What is not at all considered is that terms like, “incarnation,” or “self-existent,” are not mentioned in Scripture and both are biblical truths which all Oneness believers agree upon. If we were only limited to strict biblical words, then when teaching out of the New Testament we would have to use only Koine Greek words that the New Testament authors used!
Employing extra-biblical terminology does not violate the rules of sola-Scriptura, (Scripture alone) which says Scripture alone (i.e., teachings therein) is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church, as long as the extra-biblical terminology is wholly consistent with Scripture. Thus, the early church would use extra-biblical terminology to explain and define the biblical data revealed within the pages of the Holy Writ.
In other words, “Trinity” is merely a precise doctrinal word that defines the biblical revelation that is so overwhelmingly found in Scripture: God the Father sent God the Son, the eternal Word (cf. John 1:1; 6:37-40; 17:5) in which He became flesh (cf. John 1:14; Rom. 1:3-4). After which God the Son died in the place of sinners (cf. Rom. 8:32; 2 Cor. 5:17-21) whereby His death provides full atonement for the sins of His people (cf. Matt. 1:21). God the Father and God the Son sent God the Holy Spirit to empower the church, and dwell with and sanctify the believer (cf. Titus 3:5-7):
“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me” (John 15:26).
Again, this point must be understood: We cannot confuse the biblical data with doctrinal words that define that data. Hence, the doctrine of the “Trinity” was derived from the Scriptural data. Biblical scholar Benjamin B. Warfield explains the difference:
“The term “Trinity” is not a Biblical term, and we are not using Biblical language when we define what is expressed by it as the doctrine that there is one only true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Person, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence. . . . And the definition of a Biblical doctrine in such un-Biblical language can be justified only on the principle that it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture that the words of Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity lies in Scripture in solution; when is it crystallized from its solvent it does not cease to be Scriptural, but only comes into clearer view. . . . In point of fact, the doctrine of the Trinity is purely a revealed doctrine.2
Warfield further explains as to why the “un-Biblical” word “Trinity” is utilized to describe the biblical relation of God:
“Precisely what the New Testament is, is the documentation of the religion of the incarnate Son and the outpoured Spirit, that is to say, of the religion of the Trinity, and what we mean by the doctrine of the Trinity is nothing but the formulation in exact language of the conception of God presupposed in the religion of the incarnate Son and out poured Spirit.”3
Weak arguments: the so-called plural pronouns
Trinitarians typically use Genesis 1:26 where God said, “Let Us make man in Our image” (as well as Gen. 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8) to say that the three persons are communicating. But this cannot be verified. The use of plural pronouns is simply: “plural of majesty.” The queen of England can use the same terms, “We are not amused,” and no one would ever say that she is three.
RESPONSE: First: There are No clear biblical examples of a plural of majesty in the OT. This is yet another straw man argument. The Trinity does not rise and fall on the usage of plural terms. Christians historically have believed in the doctrine of the Trinity because it is squarely based on the biblical exegesis of the text itself:
There is one true God, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and further, the three persons are clearly differentiated from one another. All the persons in the Godhead interact with each other in a loving intercourse, even before time. Plural terms (see below) are used of the one true God, and, as we have seen, Jesus used first person pronouns to refer to Himself and third person pronouns to refer to the Father and the Holy Spirit (cf. John chaps. 14-16).
That is why Christians have believed in the doctrine of the Trinity. Moreover, the usage of Hebrew plural nouns (“Our image”; Gen. 1:26); plural adjectives (“of the holy ones”; Prov. 30:3); plural verbs (“let Us make,” “come let Us,” “your Makers, “your Husbands,” “now your Creators”; Gen. 1:26; 11:7 Isa. 54:5; Eccl. 12:1); and plural prepositions (“of Us”; Gen. 3:22) referring to the one God cannot be jettisoned away because Oneness and unitarian teachers sneer at those passages. In point of fact, the early church used Genesis 1:26-27 (“Let Us,” “Our”) to demonstrate distinction between the Persons of the Godhead. Take for instance the early church document the Epistle of Barnabas (c. A.D. 70-100):
“If the Lord submitted to suffer for our souls, even though he is Lord of the whole world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, ‘Let us make man according to our image and likeness,’ how is it, that he submitted to suffer at the hand of men?”4
Christian defender Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 160) comments on the meaning of “us” in Genesis 1:26:
“God speaks in the creation of man with the very same design, in the following words: “Let us make man after our image and likeness. . . .” From this, we can indisputably learn that God conversed with someone who was numerically distinct from Himself, and was also a rational Being.”5
Early church apologist, Theophilus (c. A.D. 180), declares:
“Let Us make man in Our image, after our likeness,” Now, to no one else than to His own Word and Wisdom did He say, “Let Us make.”6
Irenaeus bishop of Lyons (c. A.D. 180) quotes Genesis 1:26 to explain the distinction of Persons in the Godhead before time:
“For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by who, and in who, freely and spontaneously, He made all things. He speaks to Him, saying, “Let Us make man after Our image and likeness.”7
While the doctrine of the Trinity does not solely rest on Genesis 1:26 or any other first person plural reference, it can be shown that the early church understood the passage in a Trinitarian context indeed. In addition to Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8, we must also consider Jesus’ use first person plural verbs (eleusometha, “We will come,” and poiēsometha, “We will make”) to both Himself and His Father, clearly distinguishing Himself from His Father as in John 14:23:
“If any one loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and we will make Our abode with him.”
The two plural verbs here (eleusometha, “We will come” and poiēsometha, “We will make”) present no difficulty in a Trinitarian context; only if the starting point is modalistic do these passages have to be unnaturally explained away. In fact, Note both Gen. 1:26 (LXX) and John 14:23 contain the same plural verb, poieō (“to make”).
The Trinity doctrine did not emerge until fourth century:
RESPONSE: To be sure, this is an argument from ignorance. First of all, it is completely misleading to say that the doctrine of the Trinity did not emerge until the fourth century. In the East, as early as A.D. 180, church apologist Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, first uses the term “Trinity” to describe God:
“In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity [triados] of God, and His Word, and His wisdom.”8
And in the West, around A.D. 213, the brilliant church theologian and polemicist, Tertullian of Carthage, uses the term “Trinity” (Lat. trinitas, the cognate of the Gk. term triados):
“As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons. . . .”9
Again, it is true the exact English word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. But, as we have seen, this is a meaningless objection since there are many words that are justifiably used to communicate the truth of God, not specifically utilized in the Hebrew or Greek text (e.g., “incarnation,” “self-existent,” “omnipresence”; etc.). The point being that the Christian church has used many extra-biblical terminology words to convey divine revelation. Sola Scriptura is not simply adhering to the words of Scripture, but it is also being faithful to the teaching of Scripture. Regrettably, far too many people are deceived into thinking that the latter must be rejected if it does not incorporate verbatim the language of the former.
Descriptive theological words do not necessarily have to be the exact words form the original languages to communicate a biblical truth. The reason that the Protestant church rejected (and rejects) the dogmas of Roman Catholicism is that Rome holds to the position that the Word of God is contained in both “tradition and Scripture.” Hence, Catholic doctrines like Purgatory, praying for the dead, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, ex cathedra, (i.e., the infallibility of the Pope), etc., are not doctrines derived from Scripture (the written Word), but rather church tradition.10 For these teachings are foreign to Scripture. Thus, the Protestant church repudiates that claim whereby holding to Scripture alone11 as the sole infallible rule of faith for the church—Scripture is sufficient.12 “Do not,” Paul says, “go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6 NIV).
We are dealing, therefore, with the biblical data for the Trinity. Again, the precise terms to which define the data (viz. formularized doctrine) came later. So the assertion that the Trinity did not emerge until the fourth century confuses the doctrinal word “Trinity” with the biblical data of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which, as we will enjoy shortly, the early church envisaged. They did not see God as a single undifferentiated Being, but the God who revealed Himself as tri-personal.
The Assertions of David K. Bernard
As mentioned, UPCI representative and prolific Oneness author David K. Bernard, near the end of his book The Oneness of God (pp. 290-93), proposes a list of twenty-six “Trinitarian contradictions” in his endeavor to somehow disprove the doctrine of the Trinity. Under the title, “Contradictions,” Bernard opens this section by saying:
The basic problem is that trinitarianism is a non-biblical doctrine that contradicts a number of biblical teachings and many specific verses of Scripture. Moreover, the doctrine contains a number of internal contradictions. Of course, the most obvious internal contradiction is how there can be three persons of God in any meaningful sense and yet there be one God (290).
Bernard’s criticism is very direct. It is leveled with conviction, and it bears a striking similarity to most objections concerning the Trinity. But is there any truth to the claim? Does the objection accurately represent the position it is supposed to be addressing, or does this criticism incorporate fallacies of logic, and in most cases, wholesale misrepresentations concerning the Trinity? I trust that a careful and thoughtful examination of each of Bernard’s objections will reveal that, in point of fact, they stem not from the former, but clearly on the latter.
Bernard: “Did Jesus Christ have two fathers? The Father is the Father of the Son (1 John 1:3), yet the child born of Mary was conceived by the Holy Ghost (Matthew 1:18-20; Luke 1:35). Which one is the true father? or is the Holy Spirit Jesus’ Father (Luke 1:35)?”
RESPONSE: Obviously, Bernard’s misunderstands Trinitarian theology. “Father” is clearly a relational term. In 1 John 1:3 (and other passages), God the Father is Jesus’ Father in view of their relationship, not His biological father in which is a concept found in Mormon teaching, but foreign to Trinitarian truth. In a sense, however, it can be said that the Holy Spirit is His father in that He was the means (ek) of how Jesus was conceived (cf. Matt. 1:18: heurethē en gastri echousa ek pneumatos hagiou [lit. “She was pregnant by the agency of the Spirit Holy”]; emphasis added). Grammatically, the preposition ek (“by”) followed by the genitive pneumatos (“Spirit”) indicates agency.
Bernard: “How many spirits are there? Are there three as in trinitarian theology?: God the Father is a Spirit (John 4:24). Jesus is a Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17). And the Holy Spirit is a Spirit by definition. But the Bible says there is only one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:4).”
RESPONSE: Bernard completely misapprehends the doctrine of the Trinity at this point. Christian theologians have stressed this point over and over. That is, the Son is both fully God and fully man. This is wholly unlike the Oneness view, which sees the divine nature as the Father and the human nature as the Son. Moreover, it highlights one of the most frequent errors utilized by those who attack the full deity of the Son. Namely, they are, categorically, arguments against the full humanity of the Son, as opposed to actual arguments against the full deity of the Son. There are not three separate Spirits. This must be drummed in the minds of Oneness thinkers: God is purely spirit; He cannot be divided up into thirds or parts. Hence, since God is unquantifiable, indivisible, and inseparable– the three distinct Persons or Selves share the nature of the one Being of God.
Accordingly, early church theologian, Tertullian, repudiates the suggestion that the distinction between the Three involved any division of separation; it was a distinctio not a separatio (separation).13 Wherever the Being of God is, all of God is there. He cannot be divided into three separate spirits or Beings. Ontologically, the Being of God is an omnipresent spirit. That is why Jesus can say:
“We [the Father and Himself—the Son] will come to him and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23).
Bernard: “If the Father and Son are coequal Persons, why did Jesus pray to the Father? . . . Can God pray to God??
RESPONSE: Bernard, along with Jehovah’s Witnesses, confuses Jesus’ position as man with His nature as God. Hence, this type of argument is a categorical fallacy (i.e., confuses categories: Jesus’ deity with His humanity). By nature, Jesus was always subsisting as God (cf. John 1:1a: ēn [“was”]; Phil. 2:6: huparchōn [“subsisting”]). At His incarnation, it was the Person of the Son, who voluntarily emptied Himself (heauton ekenōsen; recall the reflexive pronoun heauton: “Himself He emptied”), by taking the nature of man (morphē doulou labōn). So, of course, Jesus in His humility can look to the Father in glory and pray:
“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).
Yes, Jesus has two natures: divine and human. That is, the Son is both fully God and fully man. This is wholly unlike the Oneness view, which sees the divine nature as the Father and the human nature as the Son. Moreover, it highlights one of the most frequent errors utilized by those who attack the full deity of the Son. Namely, they are, categorically, arguments against the full humanity of the Son, as opposed to actual arguments against the full deity of the Son. Bernard makes these same categorical errors throughout his writings.
Bernard: “How can there be an eternal Son when the Bible says that He was begotten, clearly indicting that the Son had a beginning? (John 3:16; Hebrews 1:5-6).”
RESPONSE: Regrettably, this is an objection based on an English term, and not on the actual meaning used by the New Testament authors. Ignorant of biblical languages, Bernard, in full agreement with Jehovah’s Witnesses, thinks that the word “begotten” means created or born at some point in time. As fully addressed (see Ho monogenēs huios, “The only begotten Son”) the word translated “begotten” (e.g., KJV; NASB) comes from the Greek word monogenēs: monos, meaning, “alone” or “only” and genos, meaning, “kind” or “type.”14 Hence the NIV reads: “one and only Son” (John 3:16; cf. John 1:18; Heb. 11:17). Monogenēs is clearly a relational term when Jesus is called the “only begotten,” as in, say, John 1:18. Here He is called “unique God” who explains or reveals God the Father (cf. John 14:6-11; also cf. Isa 6:1ff. with John 12:40-41). It would be much more useful to have Bernard engage the actual meaning of the term monogenēs than to confuse his readers with definitions foreign to the intent of the New Testament authors.
In their effort to show that the Son had a beginning, Oneness teachers also assert Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5 (“Today I have begotten [gegennēka] You”). This assertion was firmly dealt with (Go Here). To review, the term “today” (cf. Heb. 1:5; 5:5; and Acts 13:32-33) is clearly a relational term: He was openly declared to be the Son referring to His Messianic kingship, not His deity. His Sonship was openly declared at several different times throughout His life (e.g., at His baptism [Matt. 3:16-17]; the Transfiguration [Matt. 17:5]; at His resurrection [Acts 13:33; Rom. 1:2-4]). As stated, if the phrase in Hebrews 1:5, “Today I have begotten You” excludes Christ from existing before Bethlehem, then the same quotation in Acts 13:32-33 would exclude Him from existing before His resurrection!
Bernard: “If the Son is eternal and existed at creation, who was His mother at that time? We know that Son was made of a woman (Galatians 4:4).”
RESPONSE: Who was His mother at the time? This is a non-sense question. The answer is as above: “Father” was a relational term, not literal as in LDS theology. Bernard’s arguments go from bad to worse—which only confuses the issue.
Bernard: “If the Son is eternal and immutable (unchangeable), how can the reign of the Son have an ending? (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).”
RESPONSE: Discussed previously, Scripture teaches that His earthly Messianic Kingdom will end, not Jesus’ position as Son. There is no passage that provides for that assertion. Bernard begs the question by arguing that the actual Sonship will have an end without proving it from one single biblical passage. It is the Son who will sit on His own throne in Revelation 3:21. It is to the Son that the Father can say, “Your throne O God [ho theos] is forever and ever . . . You [the Son] are the same, and Your years will not come to an end (Heb. 1:8, 12; emphasis added).
Bernard: “Whom do we worship and to whom do we pray? Jesus said to worship the Father (John 4:21-24), yet Stephen prayed to Jesus (Acts 7:59-60).”
RESPONSE: Failing to understand that the Trinity teaches that God is one Being, Bernard again confuses the doctrine by this implication. We can worship all three; each of the Persons are fully divine. When one worships the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit are also worshiped. This point must be driven to maximum repetitiveness: God is unquantifiable—He cannot be divided into parts. The three persons of the Trinity are not separate Beings where one can be worshiped or prayed to and the others excluded; rather they are distinct. God is one Being, not three Beings. Only because God is tri-personal do we find in Scripture that all three persons are the objects of prayer and worship. Example, in Revelation 5:13-14 there are two distinct objects of divine worship, the Father and the Son:
“And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “’To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’ 14 And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.'”
Note: “To Him who sits” (tō kathēmenō [lit. “to the one sitting”—the Father]) “and the Lamb” (kai tō arniō—the Son) are grammatically differentiated by the repeated article tō (“the”), which precedes both nouns and are connected by the one conjunction kai (“and”; see: “Grammatical Distinctions”).
Bernard: Can there be more that three persons in the Godhead? Certainly, the Old Testament does not teach three but emphasizes oneness. If the New Testament adds to the Old Testament message and teaches three persons, then what is to prevent subsequent revelations of additional persons?
RESPONSE: Bernard here assumes what he has yet to prove—namely that “oneness” means that God is unipersonal. Monotheism simply means, one God, that is, one Being. Moreover (as we will see), the Jews did not envisage a unipersonal God. Further, the abundance of first person plural verbs and plural words that God applied to Himself are clear multi-personal references:
“Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the LORD God [Yahweh] has sent Me, and His Spirit” (Isa. 48: 16; emphasis added; see also Ps. 45: 6-7; Hos. 1:7).
Militating against this very objection, as we will examine more carefully in the sections that follow, are the Old Testament passages where Yahweh (“LORD”) is referring to and interacting with Yahweh 15 Example:
“Then the LORD [Yahweh] rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD [Yahweh] out of heaven. . . .” (Gen. 19:24).
Lastly, due to Bernard’s unitarian assumption: God is one equals God is one Person, he cavalierly asserts that the doctrine of Trinity “adds” to the Old Testament “message,” moving him to ask: “What is to prevent subsequent revelations of additional persons?” However, he errs in his reasoning to assume that the Trinity “adds to the Old” Testament.” The Old Testament firmly establishes that God is multi-personal (e.g., Gen 19:24; Isa. 48:16; Ps. 45:6-7; Hos. 1:7; etc.)16.
Moreover, in reference to Bernard’s, question (“What is to prevent subsequent revelations of additional persons?”), I would point out first that Scripture presents only the divine persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as the true God (ontologically). Second, the tri-personality of God did not first emerge in the New Testament. As if to think that the New Testament authors “added” two more persons to the Old Testament unipersonal God as Bernard suggests. The references to the Father and the Son may find their fullest expression in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, but the foundation for the tri-personalism of God is clearly laid in the Old Testament:
Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fist? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know! (Prov. 30:4; cf. Ps. 2:7, 12; 102:25).
Therefore, to speak of “adding to the oneness of God” is only Bernard’s pre-decided conclusion that the Old Testament God was unipersonal in which he argues there from.
Bernard: “Are there three Spirits in a Christian heart? Father, Jesus, and the Spirit all dwell within a Christian (John 14:17; 23; Romans 8:9; Ephesians 3:14-17). Yet there is one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:4).”
RESPONSE: Again, Bernard misapprehends the doctrine of the Trinity ad nauseam, which does not teach that there are three separate Spirits or three separate Beings. See above response to Bernard’s assertion: “Whom do we worship and to whom do we pray?”
Bernard: “If Jesus is on the throne, how can He sit at the right hand of God? (Mark 16:19). Does He sit or stand on the right hand of God? (Acts 7:55). Or is He in the Father’s bosom? (John 1:18).”
RESPONSE: Bernard makes a grave mistake in hermeneutics: figuring that terms like “throne,” “right hand” and “bosom” are to be taken in a literal wooden sense. I spent countless hours with Mormon missionaries explaining to them that terms like the phrase “right hand of God” could not mean that God has a literal “right hand.” For Scripture indicates that God the Father is invisible without body parts (cf. Col. 1:15: tou theou tou aoratou, lit. “the God the invisible one”; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16).
Think about it, if “right hand” means God’s (the Father) literal right hand, then, when He says, “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet,” (Matt. 22:24; Heb. 1:13; 10:13) would imply that God would literally make Jesus’ enemies a giant footstool comprised of millions of His enemies! Obviously, the Bible, like any literary work, is composed of various kinds of style, speech, etc. And it clearly uses, at times, figures of speech, metaphors, and euphemisms to communicate various principles or truths. We certainly do not take Jesus literally when He says that He is the “door,” or the “vine,” do we? In the same way, then, “right hand” was a Jewish idiom that meant position of authority, as demonstrated many times in Scripture (e.g., Deut. 33:2; Ps. 20:6; 110:1; Matt. 26:64). Finally, it is rather odd that Bernard would even appeal to this passage. For in a strange case of irony, this passage actually poses a tremendous problem for Oneness adherents. Specifically, how is it that Jesus can be at the “right hand” of the Father if they are the same undifferentiated Person.
Bernard: “Is Jesus in the Godhead or is the Godhead in Jesus? (Colossians 2:9 says the latter).”
RESPONSE: First, Bernard completely ignores the historical setting as to why the book of Colossians was even written. As discussed, Paul wrote the book for the express purpose of refuting the docetic brand of Gnosticism. Recalling, they held to a dualistic system: God (the supreme deity) is purely spirit and “matter” (flesh) is inherently evil. The thought of, in their mind, God dwelling in “flesh” was revolting. Consequently, Paul demolishes this idea by first declaring that Jesus created all things. These gnostics denied that a “good god” would ever create something as evil as “matter.” In defense, Paul claims that not only did Jesus create “all things” (i.e., all matter) but also He is the “Supreme God,” who lives in actual flesh! (sōmatikōs). Unless we understand the historical background to this letter, we will not be able to properly exegete the passage.
Second, Colossians 2:9 reads: “For in Him dwells all the fullness of Deity in bodily form.” In dealing with the passage, consider first that the Being of God is inseparable and indivisible (see “Colossians 2:9”). Hence, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in all of the three Persons. The verse does not say that the Godhead only dwells in Jesus. Remember, Paul’s emphasis was to refute the Gnosticism and specifically exalt the Person of Jesus Christ as God in the flesh (theotētos sōmatikōs [lit. “Deity bodily”]). As Jesus prayed: “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21).
Jesus had a different view of the Godhead than that of UPCI writers, namely that according to Jesus, He is in the Godhead (“I in You”) and the Godhead is in Him, which is in solid harmony with Trinitarian doctrine—not Oneness.
Bernard: “Who raised up Christ from the dead? Did the Father? (Eph. 1:20), or Jesus (John 2:19-21), or the Spirit? (Rom. 8:11).”
RESPONSE: Since God cannot be separated; we would expect to find that all three Persons were involved in all the works or operations of God (i.e., the economical [see n. 17 below] and soteriological Trinity [see: “The Soteriological Trinity ]). For example, as seen, in the Bible we read that the Father created (cf. 1 Cor. 8:6), the Son created (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17), and the Holy Spirit created (cf. Job 33:4). And yet, Isaiah 44:24 says that the LORD created all things alone, by Himself. This is entirely consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father created all things through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence, any of the three Persons can say, “I created all things alone because I am fully God.”
Bernard: “If the Son and the Holy Ghost are co-equal persons in the Godhead, why is blasphemy of the Holy Ghost unforgivable but blasphemy of the Son is not? (Luke 12:10).”
RESPONSE: Bernard here makes another category mistake. He confuses ontological Trinity (essence or nature) with the economical Trinity (works/functions).17 He thinks that Trinitarianism teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are identical as their function or position. But this is not so. As I have pointed out, Scripture teaches clearly that the three Persons do have different functions—economical Trinity. The three Persons of the Godhead are co-equal ontologically (in terms of essence or nature). But they have different functions and perform different tasks.
For instance, Acts 4:12 states that “there is no salvation in no one else.” So, does that mean that Jesus’ authority was superior to that of the Father because the Father is not included in the passage? Or, in 1 Corinthians 12:11, when we read that spiritual gifts were distributed by the Holy Spirit, “as He wills” does this mean because there is no passage that says the Father distributes these types of sign gifts that the Father is not “coequal” or less divine than the Holy Spirit? Not at all, for difference in function does not equal difference in nature. Consider the differing roles that husbands and wives share in the covenant of marriage. Given the argument, are we to actually assume that because the husband is the “head of the wife” that he superior in nature than that of the wives (cf. Eph. 5:23). Or, even the differences in function between the employer and the employee, would one seriously see these differences in function as necessitating an inequality in nature?
Thus, as with the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, the scribes were attacking the very Agent of God, the Holy Spirit, who was working through Christ: they said that Jesus was possessed by a demon (cf. Mark 3:30). Here again, though, the argument actually works against the Oneness position itself. For if God is unipersonal, that is, one person, how can anyone blaspheme only the Holy Spirit without blaspheming the Father and Son? Of course, Jesus did not say this, rather He clearly pointed out that blaspheming the Holy Spirit, not the Father or Himself, was an “unforgivable sin.”
Bernard: “If the Holy Ghost is a co-equal member of the trinity, why does the Bible always speak of Him being sent from the Father or from Jesus? (John 14:26; 15:26).”
RESPONSE: God the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 5:3-4; Heb 10:15-17) is omnipresent, so then clearly the passages that speak of the Holy Spirit as “being sent” cannot mean that the Holy Spirit can truly be absent from or limited to locality. That the Holy Spirit was sent refers to His relationship with believers (cf. Joel 2:28-29; Acts 1:5, 8; 10:15-17, 45). However, Bernard contradicts himself here. On page 128 of his book, Bernard tries to explain who the Holy Spirit is:
“The Holy Spirit is simply God. . . . There is only one Spirit of God. . . . If the Holy Spirit is simply God, why is there a need for this term? The reason is that it emphasizes that He who is a holy, omnipresent, and invisible Spirit works among all men everywhere and can fill, and indwell human lives.”
So, since Bernard teaches that the Holy Spirit is God and is omnipresent, how is it that this Spirit, assuming Bernard’s position, can be sent by the Father (who is the same Person as the Holy Spirit) according to John 14:26? That the Holy Spirit was “sent” clearly indicates that He is distinct and not the same Person as the senders—namely the Father and Jesus (cf. John 15:26).
It should be fairly clear that the objections most leveled by the Oneness position are really shallow lacking any real substance at all. Equally clear is the great lengths that Oneness teachers will go (Bernard in particular) in avoiding the plain meaning of the text, in defense of the sine qua non of their position: namely, that God is unipersonal.
Even more, misapprehensions, and in many cases, misrepresentations of the doctrine of the Trinity, have been the core reason as to the abundance of unbiblical and illogical arguments.
The word “Person”
Before concluding, there is one more Oneness objection that should be dealt with: the term “persons” to describe the three Members of the Godhead. Since Oneness believers assert God to be a unitarian/unipersonal deity who has not revealed Himself in three distinct persons, they repudiate the term “person” when Christians use it to describe the Members of the Trinity. Yet, it is just here that Bernard engages in special pleading, for in his book, The Oneness of God, he appeals to this very term in describing Jesus Christ: “He [the Son] is the incarnation of the Father (the Word, the Spirit, Jehovah) not just the incarnation of a person called “God the Son” (304).
Moreover, as we saw, question 11 of the UPCI tract, “60 Questions on the Godhead with Bible answers” uses the word “person”: “Does the Bible say that all the Godhead is revealed in one person? Yes, in Jesus Christ. II Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:19; 2:9; Hebrews 1:3” (emphasis added).
Also, question 56 of the same tract uses the word “person” to describe the unipersonal God of Modalism: “Can Trinitarians show that three divine persons were present when Jesus was baptized by John? Absolutely not. The one, omnipresent God used three simultaneous manifestations. Only one divine person was present–Jesus Christ the Lord” (emphasis added).
One of the problems that many Oneness believers have when they hear the word “person” (as used by Trinitarians) is that they limit the word to one and only one meaning: a human person or people, which is a fallacy of equivocation (i.e., equivocating terms that have multiple meanings).
Simply, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are presented in Scripture as three self-aware (or self-conscious) Subjects or Egos who exist in an “I”-“You” personal relationship, being fully cognizant of each other. They use personal pronouns to refer to each other (e.g., “He,” “Him,” “His,” “You”) and refer to themselves as egō (“I”). Furthermore, the Members of the Trinity enjoy personal attributes, not the least of which is the attribute of love (to say nothing of other attributes like their hatred of sin, etc.). In terms of love, they have eternally existed in a loving intimate fellowship with each other. Is this not what we read from the lips of Jesus Himself (e.g., John 14:16, 26; 17:5ff.)?
The early church had no problem utilizing personal terms to communicate the Three in the Godhead. That is why, historically, the church Fathers, in defining the Trinity, used “persons,” not as we would use it today (and therein lies much of the confusion)—denoting individuals or people. Rather, the term was used to simply communicate that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit were distinct from each other, yet personal and self-aware. These definitions became more crucial as the presence of false teaching continued to attack the Person of Christ. Hence, the early church had to delineate and define the doctrine of God so as to defend against these heresies that crept into the church. The churches in the West utilized per-sona (Lat.; from per [“through”] and sono [“speak”]), and the churches in the East used the term hypostasis (Gk). In his refutation and polemic against Modalism, early church theologian Tertullian was not reluctant to use the term “Person” (persona) to refer to the Members of the Trinity:
Whatever, therefore, was the substance of the Word that I designate a Person, I claim for it the name of Son; and while I recognize the Son, I assert His distinction as second to the Father.18
But almost all the Psalms which prophesy of the person of Christ, represent the Son as conversing with the Father—that is, represent Christ (as speaking) to God. Observe also the Spirit speaking of the Father and the Son, in the character of a Third Person: “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit You on my right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool. . . . ” Still, in these few quotations the distinction of Persons in the Trinity is clearly set forth. For there is the Spirit Himself who speaks, and the Father to whom He speaks, and the Son of whom He speaks (emphasis added).19
it was because He had already His Son close at His side, as a second Person, His own Word, and a third Person also, the Spirit in the Word, that He purposely adopted the plural phrase, “Let us make;” and, “in our image;” and, “become as one of us” . . . He distinguishes among the Persons: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him.”20
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are, as Origen stated, “three Persons” (hypostaseis).21 What Athanasius says about the Spirit, we should observe, rounds off his teaching about the Trinity. “The Godhead, accordingly to this conception, exist eternally as a Triad of Persons . . . sharing one identical and indivisible substance or essence.”22 Augustine, teaching on the Trinity, explains how the usage of the term “persons” applied to the Trinity was appropriate, but at the same time should not be misunderstood:
For, in truth, as the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father, and that Holy Spirit who is also called the gift of God is neither the Father nor the Son, certainly they are three. And so it is said plurally, “I and my Father are one.” For He has not said, “is one,” as the Sabellians say; but, “are one.” Yet, when the question is asked, What three? human language labors altogether under great poverty of speech. The answer, however, is given, three “persons,” not that it might be [completely] spoken, but that it might not be left [wholly] unspoken.23
Reformation leader John Calvin puts it this way:
“But to say nothing more of words, let us now attend to the thing signified. By person, then, I mean a subsistence in the Divine essence,—a subsistence which, while related to the other two, is distinguished from them by incommunicable properties. By subsistence we wish something else to be understood than essence. For if the Word were God simply and had not some property peculiar to himself, John could not have said correctly that he had always been with God. . . . Now, I say that each of the three subsistences while related to the others is distinguished by its own properties. . . . I have no objections to adopt the definition of Tertullian, provided it is properly understood, ‘that there is in God a certain arrangement or economy, which makes no change on the unity of essence.’—Tertull [ian]. Lib. contra Praxeam [Against Praxeas]” 24.
Earlier still, the three great Cappadocian Fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil’s younger brother Gregory of Nyssa) appealed to the analogy of a “universal and its particulars” (Basil): The universal being the one Being (ousia) or essence and its particulars being the three Persons (hupostases). Jesus Himself was not at all hesitant to apply personal pronouns to refer to His Father and to refer to the Holy Spirit (e.g., see John chaps. 14-16).
To summarize, the word “person” was and is used to describe the three Subjects, Selves or Egos of the Trinity for the following reasons:
1. In Scripture, personal pronouns are used to refer to each of the three Members or Selves of the Trinity.
2. The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit all possess personal attributes; they are intellectual, emotional, self-aware (or self-conscious) Subjects or Egos that are cognizant of their own existence and each other. They interact and have fellowship with each other; even fellowship and loving intercourse before time. Moreover, each Person referred to Himself as egō—“I” and used first person plural verbs (eleusometha, “We will come,” and poiēsometha, “We will make”) to both Himself and His Father, clearly distinguishing Himself from His Father (John 14:23); and referred to the others as “He,” “Him,” “His” or “You” (cf. John chaps. 14-16).
3. A seen, when the Father and Jesus are interacting, in the same context, we find clear subject-object distinctions, which clearly indicate that the three Persons are differentiated from each other (e.g., Matt. 3:16-17; John 14:16, 26; 2 Cor. 13:14). After all, in light of the above is there a better word to denote the Members of the Trinity? Thus, the church has enjoyed utilizing the word “Persons” to define the tri-unity and Being of God.
1 “The Word became [egeneto] flesh” (see: “John 1:14”).
2 Benjamin B. Warfield, Biblical Doctrines (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1929), 133.
3 Ibid., 146.
4 Epistle of Barnabas, 5, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers [hereafter ANF], vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899).
5 Justin Martyr, The First Apology, 61.1, in ANF, vol. 1.
6 Theophilus, To Autolycus, 2.18, in ANF, vol. 2.
7 Irenaeus, A Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So-Called [Against Heresies], 4.20.1, in ANF, vol. 1.
8 Theophilus, To Autolycus, 2.15.
9 Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 2, in ANF, vol. 3.
10 This was clearly proclaimed in the Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification:
If anyone says that people are justified; either by the sole imputation of the righteousness (justitia) of Christ or by the sole remission of sins . . . or even the grace by which we are justified is only the favour of God, let him be anathema (Canon XI; emphasis added).
11 The Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura does not teach that truth cannot be found outside of Scripture; however, it is Scripture alone that is theopneustos (lit. “God breathed out”; 2 Tim. 3:16). It is Scripture alone (the apostolic teachings) that the church was built upon (cf. Eph. 2:20). Hence, Scripture alone, not tradition, is fully sufficient for salvation. “For divine Scripture” says Athanasius (c. A.D. 359), “is sufficient above all things” (Athanasius, De Synodis, 6, ed. Philip Schaff, in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, [hereafter NPNF] vol. 4, 2nd ser. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953]; cf. Contra Gentes).
12 Dr. John MacArthur provides a working definition of the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura:
Sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. It does not claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture. . . . It only means that everything necessary, everything binding on our consciences, and everything God requires of us is given to us in Scripture (John MacArthur, “The Sufficiency of the Written Word,” in Sola Scriptura!: The Protestant Position on the Bible [Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995], 165-66).
13 J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1978), 113; cf. Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 9. Tertullian explains further:
Bear always in mind that this is the rule of faith which I profess; by it I testify that the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit are inseparable from each other, and so will you know in what sense this is said. Now, observe, my assertion is that the Father is one, and the Son one, and the Spirit one, and that They are distinct from Each Other (ibid., 9).
14 As pointed out (Go Here), it is universally agreed that the term monogenēs carries the precise meaning of “only kind,” “unique one,” or “one and only.” See: Ho monogenēs huios, “The only begotten Son.”
15 The English word, “LORD” in the Old Testament was originally translated from the Hebrew word “YHWH” and with the later addition of vowels (“Yahweh”) is known as the Tetragrammaton, which carries the meaning (being a derivative of the Heb. verb hawâh [“to be”]) the Eternal One, i.e., the Divine Name. However, post-exile Jews apparently lost the correct pronunciation of the term. Hence, in fear of mispronouncing the “Divine Name” when reading aloud the Scriptures, they would substitute YHWH for “Adonai” which was a variant reading for “Lord” (“to rule over”).
16 For example, God is said to be “Maker” and “husband in Isaiah 54:5, but both words are plural in Hebrew (lit. “Makers,” “husbands”; see also Ps. 149:2 where “Maker” is plural in Heb.; lit. “Makers”). Moreover, in Ecclesiastes 12:1 the word “Creator” is plural in Hebrew (lit “Creators”). See: “The Multi-Personal God in the Old Testament and Oneness Theology”).
17 The economical Trinity teaches that each of the three persons has different roles or functions yet are working together—harmony of operation: It was God the Son, and not the Father nor the Holy Spirit who died whereby providing the substitutionary atonement (cf. Rom. 8:32). It was God the Holy Spirit who was “sent” by the Father and the Son (cf. John 14:26; 15:26). To illustrate further, the Jehovah’s Witnesses will argue that because Jesus said that the “the Father is greater that I” (John 14:28), Jesus could not have been be equal with the Father. Committing that same categorical fallacy as Bernard indulges in, the Jehovah’s Witnesses confuse Jesus’ position, that is, His functional subordination as man, with His essential essence or nature as the eternal God (cf. John 1:1; Phil. 2:6). As man, He prayed to the Father; He said, “the Father is greater than I”; He even called the Father “My God” (John 20:17). As the eternal God, though, the Son can apply the divine name to Himself: “I AM” (egō eimi; cf. Mark 6:50; John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8; see Gk.).
18 Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 8.
19 Ibid., 11.
20 Ibid., 12.
21 Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 129.
22 Ibid., 258.
23 Augustine, On the Trinity, 5.9, in NPNF, vol. 3.
24 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.6, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).