[Since the writing of this post, I have come to believe that the oneness interpretation is correct and that the trinitarian interpretation is false. I’ve kept this post up in order to preserve the history of my thinking.]
As I mentioned in my “Introduction to My Study on the Nature of the Godhead” post, I was a part of the Oneness Pentecostal denomination. As such, I believed a non-trinitarian interpretation of the nature of the Godhead; this view denies the trinity and is a form of modalism. It holds that God the Father, the eternal spirit being who is the only true God, is essentially unipersonal, that Jesus Christ is God the Father incarnate, and that the Holy Spirit is just another way of describing God the Father (who is “holy” and “spirit”) or Jesus Christ (as Jesus is God the Father incarnate in human flesh) not a distinct person from either the Father or the Son. I say this interpretation is “a form of modalism” because what most people who comment on the oneness interpretation mean by “modalism” is sequential modalism, which is that God manifests Himself as Father and later manifests Himself as the Son and later manifests Himself as the Holy Spirit and is never two or more of these manifestations at one time. This is not the oneness interpretation; the oneness interpretation allows for simultaneous manifestations or modes and does not restrict God’s manifestation to one mode at a time.
I was raised to believe that the trinitarian interpretation was an un-Scriptural doctrine introduced to the Church by those who were influenced by paganism and Greco-Roman philosophy. This was drilled into me such that I would never even have considered the possibility of the contrary. I thank God that He softened my heart such that I was willing to study the Scriptures objectively not through the lens of my tradition or denomination. While I don’t believe I comprehend this issue in its entirety and I am willing to be convinced otherwise, I currently believe that the trinitarian interpretation comports more with the Scriptures than the oneness interpretation. Here is why.
DEFINING THE DOCTRINE
In a debate between trinitarians Calvin Beisner and Walter Martin and oneness advocates Nathaniel Urshan and Robert Sabin, Mr. Beisner (at the 3:39 mark) put forth a succinct definition of the doctrine, which he accredited to B.B. Warfield. He said the doctrine can be summarized in three propositions:
- There is one God.
- The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is each God.
- The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is each a distinct person.
Only moments before Mr. Beisner’s comments, Mr. Martin had said that the trinity is the doctrine that “within the nature of the one eternal God there are three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.
I prefer Mr. Beisner’s succinct, propositional summary as it affords a very simple method for examining the doctrine: We need only to examine the Scriptural data and see if it comports with each individual proposition. If we find that each proposition is true, then we can say the doctrine as-a-whole is true.
EXAMINING THE DOCTRINE
For my purposes, I will not be examining #1 and #2 as both the trinitarian and oneness interpretations agree on them. The crucial proposition is #3: “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is each a distinct person.” Does this proposition comport with the Biblical data?
First, is the Father distinct from the Son? More specifically, is the person of the Father distinct from the person of the Son prior to the incarnation? This is the critical question because the oneness interpretation recognizes a distinction between the Father and the Son due to the incarnation of the Father as a genuine human being such that the human being (the Son) is distinct from the God which is incarnated as the human being (the Father). But, if it can be shown that the person of the Son pre-exists the incarnation and is distinct from the person of the Father at this pre-incarnation era, then clearly, the Father is distinct from the Son.
In answering this question, I find John 1:1-3 conclusive. “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.” Of immediate importance is the first three words of v.1 – “in the beginning”. This recalls the very first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, which says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The fact that John begins with the phrase “In the beginning” and that the creation is immediately discussed in v.3 suggests that the time period John has in mind is the same as in Genesis 1:1 – “the beginning”, which is the time prior to the creation. Next, we see that a very clear distinction is made between “the Word” and “God” in v.1 and v.2. In v.1, John says, “the Word was with God” and emphasizes the point with v.2 by saying “He was in the beginning with God”. Notice that v.2 says “He” not “it” was in the beginning with God. Therefore, it seems obvious to me that a personal distinction between “the Word” and “God” prior to the incarnation is established by v.1-2 alone. However, when we add v.3 and cross-reference Colossians 1:16, we have even more reason to accept this conclusion. It is said of “the Word” in v.3 that “All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.” I would point about that by saying “through him” this verse again suggests the existence of a person at this point. However, the oneness interpretation of this passage suggests that “the Word” is merely the “thought or plan of God”. Well, Colossians 1:16 seems to preclude this interpretation; it says, “For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth…all things have been created through him and for him.” Clearly, from these words themselves, we know that a person is doing the creating. Who is it that Paul is talking about? Look at v.13 of Colossians 1: He is talking about “the Son”! So, clearly, the person of the Son, distinct from “God” in John 1 is the person doing the creating.
Now, someone might say that this personal distinction between “the Word” and “God” controverts the deity of the “the Word”. Not at all! John 1:1 concludes by affirming the deity of the Word: “the Word was God”. Also, by reading John 1:14, 18, we find out that “the Word became flesh” and that Son, who is the Word, “is Himself God”. Finally, we know from the words of YHWH Himself in the Old Testament that it was He alone who created (Isaiah 44:24). If the Word created everything (as is said in John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16), then He is YHWH.
In conclusion, it seems to me that, yes, the person of the Son is distinct from the person of the Father, prior to the incarnation.
Next question: Is the person of the Son distinct from the person of the Holy Spirit? Well, if the person of the Holy Spirit is the same person as the Father, then the above considerations would force us to conclude yes. So, I’m going to move on to what I think is the more important question as I think that the answer to this more important question will answer this question as well. Is the person of the Father distinct from the person of the Holy Spirit?
In answering this question, I find John 16:13 conclusive. Jesus (the Word become flesh/the Son) is speaking and says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” Let’s pause and consider. Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit. He uses the word “he” in reference to the Spirit showing us that the Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force. Let’s continue with the verse; Jesus says, “For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears.” I’d suggest that you pause and think about this: The Holy Spirit will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. I’d suggest this presents us with a clear distinction between the Father and the Holy Spirit as it seems entirely inconsistent with the rest of the Scriptural record to conceive of the Father needing to hear from someone else before He speaks. Therefore, I conclude that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person from the Father.
Now, what about the distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Son? I think the next verse in John 16 answers this for us. Jesus is still speaking, and He says, “He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit, here distinguishes between Himself and the Spirit. Therefore, I conclude that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person from the Son.
From these considerations I think we can conclude that proposition #3 is true: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is each a distinct person. Having demonstrated that all three propositions comport with the Scriptures, we can conclude that the doctrine of the Trinity comports with the Scriptures. This is why I affirm the Trinity.
Having concluded thusly, I would like to add that I am open to the leading of the Spirit of God to a different conclusion. I find myself woefully inadequate to address issues such as Hebrew or Greek grammar, Church History, etc. which might be pertinent to how I conclude. If anyone has anything they think explains these texts of Scripture that I’ve presented in a way that would force us to deny the Trinity, I’d like to hear it.