See Oneness Theology: Overview

Theological Identification: “Oneness” theology, historically known as “Modalism.”[1]

Who: Oneness churches include the United Pentecostal Church International (hereafter UPCI), which is the largest Oneness domination. In addition to the UPCI, there are many other Oneness churches having generic names such as “Apostolic,” “Bethel Temple,” “Higher Ground,” “Jesus’ Name,” or even “Jesus Only,” etc. Further, there are many popular and prolific preachers on the airwaves that propagate Oneness theology (e.g., Trinity Broadcasting Network [TBN] features one of the most recognized Oneness preachers, T. D. Jakes of the Potters House, Dallas, TX.[2]

The basics of Oneness theology:

The Father: Jesus’ divine nature, God.

Son: Jesus’ human nature, the Son of God, not God the Son, for only the Father is God. Jesus’ divine nature is the Father (or the Holy Spirit), His human nature is the Son.

Holy Spirit: Jesus’ divine nature. Thus, as to His divine nature, Jesus is both Father and Holy Spirit depending on His particular function (e.g., Jesus as the Father created all things, but Jesus as the Holy Spirit mode is the Comforter).

Oneness Christology is a clear and major departure from biblical orthodoxy. It removes the personhood and deity and incarnation from the Son, thus removing the Son from the Trinity. 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 “Son” is God. As stated, Oneness theology teaches that Jesus’ divine nature represents the Father and Holy Spirit, but not the Son—i.e., the “Son” is not God; He is m flesh (hence, not actually becoming flesh), and that flesh was called “Son” (see Bernard, Oneness of God, 1983: 106, 122; 1991:103).
  • Oneness Christology claims that Jesus is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (same Person), hence denying the concept of the Trinity (cf. Bernard, Oneness of God, 1983: 57; Weisser, 1983: 2; UPCI, 2008). Thus, Oneness theology is “unitarian” seeing God as a unipersonal deity, same as Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

In sharp contrast, in the Pauline corpus, the deity, unipersonality and distinction of all three Persons are seen frequently either in the same passage or same context (cf. 2 Cor. 13:14). Both John and Paul present the Son as fully God and Creator of all things (cf. John 1:1, 3, 18; Col. 1:16-17; Phil. 2:6-11).

In the prologue of Hebrews, the author in v. 3 and God the Father Himself declares that the Person of the Son is “the God” (ho theos, v. 8) and further, God the Father *directly addresses* the Son as “Lord” (using the vocative kurie, “Lord”), thus, the YHWH of Psalm 102:25-27—the unchangeable Creator (1:10-12). The Father’s words here totally demolish the Oneness position, which sees the “Son” representing only the human nature of Jesus whose life started in Bethlehem.

Oneness theology cannot stand exegetically. It must circumvent and redefine the plain reading of many passages that state or imply, for example, the grammatical and contextual distinctions of the Persons in the Trinity, the preexistence and deity of the Son, and the deity and unipersonality of the Holy Spirit. Further, contrary to the historical revisionism frequently employed by Oneness authors and teachers, the early church prior to Nicea held to the concept of the Trinity and universally rejected Oneness doctrine, that is, they rejected both modalistic and dynamic forms of Monarchianism.

We must pray that God rescues Oneness believers from the darkness of Oneness-unitarianism. As Christians, we must present to them a coherent presentation of the gospel proclaiming the one true God and Savior of biblical revelation, who has revealed Himself as triune.

For a short outline on the Oneness rejection of the Son’s preexistence see this  See The Preexistence of the Son and Oneness Theology.

See10 Questions to ask Oneness Believers

See and print this short Oneness Tract


 

NOTES

[1] Oneness theology was first known as monarchianism, which comes from the Greek word monarchia, meaning single principle. There were two forms of monarchianism: modalistic, and the far less accepted, dynamic (or more properly called adoptionism), both of which emerged at the end of the second century. Modalistic monarchianism, known also as Modalism, Sabellianism (named after the heretic Sabellius, who came to Rome and taught it at the beginning of the third century) and even patripassianism (from Lat., meaning, “father to suffer”). Today, however, Modalism is generally classified as “Oneness.” Modalism earned its name from its distinctive theology. Basically, Modalism (or Oneness theology) teaches that God is a unitarian (i.e., unipersonal), indivisible monad. Hence, the titles “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” were merely the different modes, roles, or offices that the unipersonal deity temporally manifested for the sake of redemption. Oneness teachers today tell us that Jesus is the name of the single, lone Person behind the three masks of the “Father,” “Son” and “Holy Spirit” (in contrast to early Modalism, which taught it was the Father Person behind the masks).

[2] If you are unsure about the orthodoxy of a particular church (or pastor), examine the church’s doctrinal statement concerning God. If it avoids the word “Person,” and/or describes God as three “manifestations” or “dimensions” (as T. D. Jakes does, see The Potter’s House  use extreme caution! Orthodox Christianity has never described God as merely temporary appearances, manifestations, or even worse, “dimensions.” Oneness churches typically describe God in those terms. However, if a church claims to be Trinitarian, yet uses terms like “manifestations” to describe the three Persons of the Trinity, it reveals theological ignorance or carelessness. In my observation, the term “manifestations” in a doctrinal statement frequently indicates Oneness rather than Trinitarian theology. Therefore, when churches avoid the term “Persons” in their doctrinal statements—beware.


“For a Child [yeled] will be born [yalad] to us, a Son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6, NASB).

 

Oneness advocates see phrase, “Eternal Father” as a proof text to the notion that the Messiah is the Father – However, Consider this:

1) Fallacy of equivocation by asserting that the term “father” (Heb. Ab) has only one meaning. The NT identification of God the Father. Contra the fact that the term “father” (ab) has various meanings in the OT, depending on the context. Further, asserting that the unitarian supposition (i.e., only the Father) many Oneness advocate appeal also to Mail. 2:10. However, neither this passage nor Mal. 2:10 teaches that only the Father is God, rather speaking of God as Creator (see point 4 below). 

2) Shem. The word translated “NAME” (shem, LXX – onoma) as in “His name will be called” (shem + qara) was Not a formal title for God, but rather it denoted the essence or essential characteristics, or authority of who someone is (cf. E. J. Young)[1]. This was clearly the Semitic concept of “name.” Hence, as to the essence and character of the Messiah, He is Wonderful,[2] Counselor, Mighty God, Father Eternal (Heb.) and Prince of Peace.

3) When the term “father” is applied to God (or Yahweh) in the OT, it typically denoted His parental, providential character to His children—namely, Israel. For example:  

  • Exod. 4:22-23: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Israel is My son, My firstborn. 23 So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.'” 
  • Ps. 103:13: “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.” 
  • Isa. 63:16: “You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us And Israel does not recognize us. You, O Lord, are our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Your name” (cf.  Jer. 31:9).

Note – – the term “father” was never a standard recurring Epithet for God in the OT—only used of God fifteen times.   

 4) Linguistically, – Ab carries the meaning of “possessor, “founder,” or “source.”  For example, 2 Sam. 23:31 speaks of Abialbon– “father (or possessor) of strength,” strong one. In Exodus 6:24, “Abiasaph”–father [possessor] of gathering,” As with Malachi 2:10, – corresponding with that meaning, the term “father” carries the idea of “possessor,” “founder,” “source”- as with His role as Creator (cf. Duet. 32:6; Isa. 64:8; Mal. 2:10). So, the Messiah “possesses,” that is, the source of eternity—He is the Creator of all things .     

 

5) Syntactically, the Hebrew term ab (“father”) precedes the word translated “eternal.” Thus, abiad (אֲבִיעַ֖ד), from the Hebrew ab (“father”) and ad (“forever, ever perpetuity”). Thus, literally, “father eternal” (not “eternal father”)—indicating the eternal nature of the Messiah.

Targums of Isa 9:6[3]: “For us a child is born, to us a son is given . . . and his name will be called the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, existing forever [or “HE who lives forever”]. The Messiah in whose days peace shall increase upon us” (Targum Johnathan).  

 

Conclusion 

So according to lexical-semantic of abiad (ab, “father” and ad, “eternal, forever”), the Messiah is the “father,” that is, the possessor, source of eternity—the Creator of all things, as the NT indicates (John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 1:2, 10-12; 2:10). He is the YHWH of Ps. 102:25-27; cf. Heb. 1:10-12), the unchangeable Creator (He lives forever). But not the person of the Father or Holy Spirit. He is the Son of God (Dan. 7:9-14; Mark 14:61-14; John 5:17-18; 17:5; 2 John 1:3; Rev. 5:13-14)   

There has never been a Jewish commentator, Rabbi, church Father, nor Christian scholar that has interpreted Isa. 9:6 as Oneness teachers do. Oneness teachers must prove that Jesus is specifically called the Father of the Son of God (i.e., His own Father). 

The Oneness view opposes historical and contemporary scholarship at every turn. The Jesus Christ of biblical revelation is God the Son, unipersonal and preexistent, who is the Son of the Father, the only Jesus that can save.

 


“Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love” (2 John 1:3).


Notes

[1] E. J. Young, Commentary on the Book of Isaiah, 1972.

[2] The Hebrew term translated “Wonderful” (pele) is from the same root word (both from pala) as in Judges 13:18: “seeing it is wonderful.”

[3] The Targum was an ancient Aramaic translation providing explanations and paraphrases of the Hebrew Old Testament. In the post-exilic period, Aramaic began to be broadly spoken in the Jewish community in conjunction with Hebrew. There is solid evidence indicating that the targumic usage of the Memra (“Word”) was the background for John’s Logos theology.

 

Never was there a more deceptive doctrine advanced than that of the Trinity. It could have originated only in one mind, and that the mind of Satan the Devil (Reconciliation [Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1928], p. 101).

Since the beginning of human history, the nature of God (i.e., how He revealed Himself) has been furiously attacked (esp. ontological monotheism).[1] Though, one of the first heresies that emerged in first century church was that of the Judaizers.[2] And the second heresy that the early church dealt with was that of the Gnostics.[3] Both of which were thoroughly refuted by the apostles in there writings.[4]

Jesus was clear on the subject: eternal life is to have “knowledge” of the true God (cf. John 17:3; 8:24; 1 John 5:20). And Scripture presents that there is one true God who revealed Himself in three coequal, coeternal, and coexistent *distinct* persons—thus, God is Triune. The biblical data is undeniable. But many today (and historically) deny, in some way, shape, or form, the doctrine of the Trinity. We are not speaking of some peripheral, non-essential doctrine here: The belief in the doctrine of the Trinity is essential to ones salvation, for it is how God revealed Himself—the very nature or essence of His essential Being, the only true God.

If one removes the Son from the Trinity (in any way), the Son is reduced to either to a created being (as with, for example, Oneness believers and Jehovah’s Witnesses [JWs]) or the Son becomes a “separate” God (as in Mormonism). The Trinity is the biblical explanation of how there is one God and yet the Son is presented as both Creator[5] and “God” (theos)[6] distinct from the Father and Holy Spirit who are likewise presented as God.[7]

 

Main Objections to the Trinity 

 

1) The term “Trinity” is not found in the Bible.

2) The Trinity teaches three Gods.

3) The Trinity was invented in the fourth century (viz. at the Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325) and thus, it is not taught in the Bible.

First objection. This argument is nonsensical for many reasons. It is true that the exact word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. If the individuals using this argument were consistent, then, they would not believe that God is “1 person” either, because the word “unitarian” does not appear in the Bible. In point of fact, Christians today (as well as the early Christian church, as noted above) use the doctrinal term Trinity to describe God because it simply adequately denotes the teaching and concept of a triune multi-personal God presented throughout Scripture. Consider that the terms: incarnation, coequal, coeternal (with the Father), and the phrases: hypostatic union, God the Son, substitutionary atonement, etc., which are all true of Christ, do not appear in the Bible. Also, the terms omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, self-existent, etc., which are all ascribed to God, do not appear in the Bible; however, the teachings or concepts of these doctrinal words and phrases do. They are clearly expressed in the biblical content.

Here are some of the doctrinal (nonbiblical) words mentioned above with their corresponding biblical passages expressing the teachings and concepts of these words:

Incarnation. This defines the teaching of God the Son becoming flesh – John 1:14 et al. God the Son (Mark 14:61-64; John 1:1, 18; Heb. 1:8, 10; 1 John 5:20 et al.). Hypostatic union of Jesus Christ. This describes the two natures of Christ, God and man (John 1:14; 1 Cor. 2:8; Phil. 2:6-7-8; 2 Tim. 2:8). The Son’s coequality and coeternality with the Father (Gen. 19:24; John 1:1c; 5:17-18; 10:30-33; 17:5; Heb. 1:3, 6, 8-12; Jude 1:4; Rev. 1:8, 5:13-14; 22:13).

Substitutionary atonement. This describes Jesus’ atoning cross work as a literal substitution for and on behalf of the elect (John 6:37-39; 10:17; Mark 10:45; Rom. 8:32; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 5:25; 1 Tim. 2:6).

Omnipresent. An attribute ascribed to God (Ps. 139:6-10; John 14:23 et al.).Although there are many more doctrinal words that can be mentioned that are not contained in the Bible, they all do indeed express the biblical teachings and concepts they represent.

Second objection (The Trinity = 3 separate Gods.): To say that the Trinity teaches three Gods is a gross misrepresentation of the doctrine. As noted, the very foundation of the Trinity is monotheism—namely, the Bible teaches that there is only one true God.
 
Three Gods/gods is not biblical trinitarianism rather, it is polytheism (many true Gods/gods. Or henotheism (hen, “one” Theos, “god”), which is the belief that although many true Gods/gods exist, worship and devotion is to only one God. Hinduism and the LDS Church, that is, Mormonism hold to this view. Mormons acknowledge the existence of many true Gods of other planets, but they only worship and the God for this planet. See our article: Are Mormons Christians? Contra to the many “true” Gods of Mormonism, both the OT and NT condemns that (Exod. 20:5; Isa. 43:10; 45:5; Mark 12:28-29; 1 Tim. 2:5 et al.). As shown above, the Bible teaches that there are three distinct persons who share the nature of the one true God. Or, there is one true God (one Being) who is revealed in three coequal coeternal coexistent distinct persons—the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As delineated above, the three biblical propositions or truths affirm the Trinity.

1. There is one true eternal God (viz., one Being).

2. There are three persons referred to as God, YHWH, and the Creator of all things— the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

3. These three persons are distinct from each other.

Third objection (The Trinity wasn’t invented until the Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325). First, the issue at the Council of Nicaea was not the Trinity, that had already been established in the early church decades before Nicaea. In point of fact, there are no primary source documents that came out of Nicaea that even mention the term “Trinity” or specifically discuss it. Instead, the Council primarily addressed the heretical teachings of Arius who openly taught that the Son was created, “a god,” but not “Almighty God,” similar to what the JWs teach. Arius taught that Jesus was of a “different substance” than that of the Father in direct opposition to the orthodox position, which taught that Jesus was of the “same substance” (homoousios, viz. coequal, consubstantial) as that of the Father, but not the same person. So, the chief issue at Nicaea was the question of the ontological relationship between the Father and the Son—not the Trinity per se

See Was the Trinity Conceived in the 4th Century?


 

NOTES

[1] Ontological (by nature) monotheism (one God) is the doctrine that there exists only one God by nature (cf. Deut. 4:35; Jer. 10:10-11). Mormons, although, claim that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are “one God,” but only in the sense of “unity,” not one in essence. But, as they assert, these three are three “separate” Gods, with the Father as the head God in whom they worshiped alone—thus, the Mormon view of the Godhead. But whether one or more Gods are worshiped is irreverent, the question is: how many true Gods exist? The fact that the Mormons believe that many “true” Gods exist, therefore, categorizes the Mormon people as overt polytheists (the belief in many true Gods) and hence, non-Christian. Not only in the OT, but in the NT as well, strict monotheism was strongly asserted (e.g., Mark 28:29; John 17:3; 1 Tim. 2:5).

[2] Simply, the Judaizers taught that one had to practice the OT law, rituals, ordinances, etc. (esp. circumcision), to obtain salvation. And this, was the primary reason as to why Paul wrote to the Galatians.

[3] The Gnostics (from gnōsis, meaning “knowledge”) held to a dualistic system: spirit was good and all “matter” (esp. flesh) was inherently evil; some even taught that “matter” did not exist; it was illusory—as with the theology of Christian Science today. Both the Apostle John and Paul specifically refuted this teaching (esp. in Col. and 1 & 2 John).

[4] As seen above.

[5] E.g., Isa. 9:6; John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17)

[6] E.g., John 1:1, 18; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:3, 8-10

[7] Of course, the OT and NT teaching of “one God” (i.e., monotheism) does indicate or equate “one person” as *unitarian* groups such as Jews, Muslims, JWs, Oneness Pentecostals, etc. presuppose. Monotheism simply means “one God” (viz. “one Being”). To argue that “one God” equals “one person” is to argue in a circle. It assumes what is meant to be proven.