This booklet addresses the question of the Godhead and if its three members are individual persons (a Trinity) or one being that manifests or changes Himself in different ways (called modalism or Oneness). God is of course a complex being that we can’t fully understand so there will be some stretching of our minds in any view we take. And on top of this, God didn’t seem too concerned with explaining it fully. There are a few extremes that are serious (which I’ll get into), but for the most part God doesn’t seem to think it is important for us to understand exactly how the Godhead is made up. Every heresy concerning the Trinity has arisen out of an attempt to explain the inexplicable. The important thing is to do what He says (love and obey Him) and that is made perfectly clear. I do not think God will condemn people for sincerely misunderstanding some of the finer details which aren’t clear. But to keep people from being confused by the issue and going too far to views that do cause serious problems, I decided to write this short booklet.
Views on God
It might be helpful to give a brief overview of the different thoughts on the Trinity. (Many of these statements will be developed in much more detail later.) First, all Christians are monotheistic (a belief in one God) in some way; it’s just how we see the different members of the Godhead. Even with a multiple member Godhead, the members of the Godhead are totally and perfectly united and connected in ways we can’t totally understand. There are no internal power struggles or disputes. They can also be in each other, as we know they are in us, but to a fuller degree. As we’ll see, these supernatural attributes of the Godhead will explain some of the confusion. (By the way, it’s hard to know what to call these divine individuals of our great amazing Godhead: persons, beings, members, or “centers of consciousness” as some say. You’ll see I use all these terms.) So with that common background, here are three basic views of the Godhead that I’ve seen.
The vast majority of Bible passages (approx. 95% of 350 passages) and earliest of the church Fathers simply call God the Father “God” and Jesus the “Son of God”, and then there is the Spirit of God. I call this “early Trinitarianism” to distinguish it from Nicaean Trinitarianism which I’ll discuss next. The Early Trinity easily explains that there is “one God” but that He has a divine Son that has been with Him for all eternity. Hundreds of verses distinguish “God” from “Jesus”. So in these verses it’s easy to say that Jesus is not “the God” just from the structure of the sentence. Jesus Himself calls his Father the only true God in John 17:3 (below).
[Jesus speaking] And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3
Some have used verses like this that clearly separate Jesus from God (the Father) to go too far and say Jesus isn’t divine at all. But there are plenty of verses that show that He is, especially those that show his pre-incarnate existence. So just to avoid confusion with various cultic ideas, I’ll emphasize that in this view the three members of the Godhead are all eternally divine. Jesus is not a mere man or angel who was created at some point as the Arians and JW’s believe. And there are never any other divine persons besides these three, period. We don’t become God someday as the Mormon’ believe.
So I’m sure you’re wondering about the verses where Jesus IS called God. How can Jesus be God when He just declared only His Father is God? There are 5 verses like this that clearly call Jesus God and another 9 that could say it but it’s not as clear. I’ll explain in a minute that these verses are using the word “God” in a different meaning than Jesus being “the only true God”. But the first thing to notice is that all these verses where Jesus is called God are surrounded by nearby verses which clearly show a distinction between Jesus and His Father. So they must not mean that He is the same person as the Father.
Here’s an example of one of these verses where Jesus is called God, and how it is surrounded by nearby verses showing that He is clearly unique from God the Father. John 20:28 seems to be the most famous of these verses:
Thomas answered him [Jesus], “My Lord and my God!” John 20:28
Some people will confuse this is as saying Jesus is the same person as God the Father. But look at the verse just seven verses earlier:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” John 20:21
And John 20:17, four verses before this one.
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17
So this famous verse which causes confusion with Jesus being the same as God the father is surrounded by verses showing He clearly isn’t. All of these verses which show Jesus as God have nearby verses like this which show He is separate from God the Father. Here’s a list of all the verses where Jesus is called God and their surrounding clear verses which show He is distinct from the Father.
|Jesus is clearly called God in these verses:|
|Jesus is called God:||Nearby verses showing Jesus is not God the Father:|
|Psalms 45:6,7||Psalms 45:6,7|
|John 1:1,18||John 1:1,2,14; 3:35|
|John 10:34||John 10:17,18 and many more|
|John 20:28||John 20:17, 21|
|Hebrews 1:8,9||Hebrews 1:8,9|
|Jesus is called God but it’s unclear, or the underlying text is uncertain:|
|John 3:13||John 3:16,17|
|Acts 20:28||Acts 10:38|
|Romans 9:5||Romans 10:9|
|Philippians 2:6||Philippians 2:9-11|
|Colossians 2:2, 9||Colossians 3:1, 3|
|1 Timothy 3:16||1 Timothy 2:5|
|1 Timothy 6:13-16||1 Timothy 2:5|
|1 John 3:16||1 John 4:9|
|Revelation 1:4-8||Revelation 1:1|
This confusion with both persons being called God is cleared up by seeing that the Greek word for God (Theos) is a generic word for “deity” or God and not solely used for “the only true God”. It can either mean “the God” or it can mean deity, divine, or part of the Godhead. So when these verses say Jesus is God, it’s like saying He’s deity, or a divine being (and there’s only 3 true divine beings), part of the Godhead.
This is an important concept so let’s look at this in a little more detail. The Hebrew word Yahweh (Translated as LORD in our English Bibles) always refers to God the Father. However the Hebrew word Elohim and the Greek word Theos are generic words for God or deity, even false gods. Context makes it clear. In English we make the distinction with the capital “G” in the word “God” but this is not in the original Greek text. The translators have looked at the context and determined which it is and made the distinction for us. We are used to this.
However, more surprising is that, though rare, these generic words for deity can also refer to people. In John chapter 10 Jesus refers to Psalm 82 when He says “you are gods”. Psalm 82 is an allegory about God presiding over an assembly of world leaders, as is clear in the context, and is criticizing them for their poor judgment and commanding them do better. In it God calls these world leaders “gods”. They are apparently called gods because they are His representatives on earth, preside over people and derive their authority ultimately from Him. So Jesus is asking why the Pharisees were angry when He said He was the “Son of God”, when God spoke to these world leaders and called them “gods”. God also used the term for Moses when talking to him, “See, I have made thee a God to Pharaoh” (Exodus 7:1, KJV). Psalm 45:6,7; Exodus 21:6 and 22:8, 9, and 28 may be other examples though it isn’t as clear.
Knowing that these generic words for God don’t necessarily have to mean “the God” clears up so much confusion. And it is perfectly Biblical as Jesus and God the Father themselves affirm in the Old and New Testaments. You just have to look at the context and determine which meaning it takes. So once again, the confusing verses in the New Testament where Jesus is called God are just references to His deity. They are not meaning that He is “The God”. Verses like this one below make it perfectly clear because they are both called God. It’s clearly Jesus being anointed by God the Father. Jesus is called God but “The God” is right with him.
8 But regarding the Son He says,
“Your throne, God, is forever and ever,
And the scepter of righteousness is the scepter of His kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of joy above Your companions.” (Hebrews 1:8,9 quoting Psalm 45:6,7)
This is also found in John 1:1 “the Word was with God and the word was God”. This verse structure happens to also have further Greek underlying indications that one of the words means deity, which I’ll get into later. But for now, just notice that Jesus and God the Father are clearly seen here – Jesus “was God” (deity) and He was also “with God” (the God). This is also seen a few verses later in verse 18. With this understanding that the word “God” (Theos) can have multiple uses, confusing verses like this become clear. Context usually makes it clear what use the verse is using. With this simple understanding you can tell the difference in how Jesus is God (deity) but not “the only True God” as Jesus Himself said. It makes things so simple and explains the confusing verses.
Theios, which is derived from Theos, is a similar word with multiple meanings. John Wycliffe translated Theios “Godhead” in his English Bible (which remains in many translations). But he also translated Theios as “divine” as context warranted.
So that is an explanation of the 5 to 14 verses where Jesus is called God. As I said, the vast majority of Bible passages easily support this Early Trinity idea in the simple way they call out Jesus distinct from the Father. Depending on the version (I used ESV), there are about 270 verses that call out God and Jesus or Christ separately. You can just search an online concordance for “God” and “Jesus” and you’ll get about 200. Then you find about 70 more if you search for “God” and “Christ” and “-Jesus” (this “-Jesus“ is to omit the duplicate verses that have both the word “Jesus” and “Christ” along with “God” so it gives about 270 unique verses total). Then I’ve added other verses which didn’t show up with this search. For example, verses where “Son” is used instead of Jesus or Christ. Of all the verses, I found that 140 of these verses mention both God and Jesus separately and it would seem to indicate two distinct persons but it’s not clear. However there are an additional 130 verses that clearly separates God from Jesus as different persons. Here are some examples of those clear verses:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:1-3
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 1 Corinthians 11:3
When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:28
3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 1 Timothy 2:5
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Hebrews 1:1-4
The one controversy with this theory is that, though it doesn’t have to be the case for the theory to work, it does seem to make God the Father greater than Jesus, which later versions of the Trinity adamantly oppose (this is the Nicaean Trinity which is discussed next). However I don’t see the Biblical basis for them being so adamant on this. After all there are many verses that show that Jesus is subordinate to the Father. The later versions of the Trinity have to add to the scriptures (a practice called Eisegesis) by saying that Jesus was subordinate only while He was on Earth – called “incarnational subordination”. But 1 Corinthians 15:28 (and see v 24 for context) seems clear that Jesus will be subject to the Father at the end of the age, which is when He is back with the Father, not on earth. Later I’ll show more verses to support this.
When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:28
Some people will agree that Jesus is subordinate in “economy” or how his roll plays out like this, but still completely equal in ontology (power and substance); Like how a boss and an employee are totally equal – they are both men, they just have different roles and the employee has to submit for things to work out. But here again there is a verse that directly contradicts this. Jesus plainly and succinctly says His Father is greater than Him.
You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. John 14:28
Modalists will take opportunities like this to attack this weaker doctrine of the Nicaean Trinity. I’ve seen it firsthand as I’ve read books promoting Modalism. I also read in this article (https://www.bible.ca/trinity/trinity-deity-of-christ.htm) that this weakness is what gave Arian (a form of Modalism discussed later) his strength to oppose the Trinity and why it dominated the Church from 350-400 A.D. But some people today will still equate any view where Jesus is “less than God” as Arian Heresy. It’s probably an overreaction to Arianism. But, as I’ll show shortly, Arianism is way different for other reasons.
And when you say Jesus is “less than God” it can mean two things. One is that Jesus does not have the nature of deity at all so He’s not even divine. This would be very bad. Jesus is equal to God in this way, in that they are both of divine nature, and which only 3 beings ever have been or will be. But the other is to say Jesus is not completely equal (ontologically) to the Father though still very much eternal and divine. I don’t see any Biblical problem with this.
The Bible doesn’t give us many details, but all the verses would seem to indicate that there is some difference between the Father and Jesus which makes the Father the “One True God” as Jesus Himself says, and yet Jesus is still very much divine as God’s only Son. We don’t know what this difference is and how God the Father is greater than Jesus. It’s actually not really important to the early Trinity theory. One doesn’t have to be greater than the other, there just has to be some difference that distinguishes God the Father as the One True God. That would lead one to think that God is greater than Jesus and the Bible, including the verses I mentioned above, seems to support that.
There is one verse that has caused some confusion but when you read it in full context you clearly see Jesus distinct and obedient to the Father. It doesn’t explain what “equality” with God means but combined with Jesus’ statement in John 14:28 above “the Father is greater than I”, it must mean He was equal in having a divine nature as I just discussed. And that seems to fit fine with the theme of the verse, and why it says He had the “form of God”. It seems to be talking about His divinity. He gave up His divinity to be human.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11
This later doctrine of the Trinity I’m referring to, which is the most common version held by both Catholics and Protestants, was developed a little in the 3rd and mostly in the 4th centuries. It was debated against Arianism at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. but the debate continued well after that (The Arians even won politically for a while after this Council. Constantine was baptized by an Arian bishop). This can be called the Nicaean Trinity, though most only know it as “The Trinity”. If you look much at early church history you see that the power and opulence that Constantine brought to the church was not good for it. So all doctrines developed during this time should be especially critiqued with the Bible. The Nicaean Trinity adds some components about how Jesus is totally equal with God, not lesser, or dependent in any way and not subordinate, except when He was in the flesh. Then the First Council of Constantinople (381 AD) declared that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one substance (ousia) and three co-equal persons (hypostasis). As I said, I wonder about all this and don’t see scriptural support for these unique additions to the Trinity.
The Nicaean Trinity also defines “The One God” as a complex unity, where the three members of the Godhead all individually and collectively make up one God. So per this Trinity view, when you are saying “God” you are referring to one or all the members. I don’t see any problem with this but it is confusing that the Spirit is fully God (as they say), Jesus is fully God, and God the Father is fully God but they are also all combined fully one God. 1+1+1=1 as it commonly criticized by opponents to the Trinity. However it is to be expected that God is more complex than our minds can comprehend so I don’t have a problem with this Trinity. But it is the difficulty of explaining how Jesus is divine and yet separate from the Father without there being two God’s and therefore polytheism that has caused all the controversy. It can be mostly explained in the idea of a complex unity, like one family, one church, one school, etc. that are singular entities but have multiple members. The difference is that we wouldn’t say each person in the family is the whole family. So it doesn’t work out in common logic. That’s why the famous sketch was developed in the 12th to 15th centuries (exact origin date unknown) to explain it, called “Shield of the Trinity” or Scutum Fidei. You can explain impossible scenarios with sketches.
What does work out better is that it can be referred to with singular pronouns (We say “the school is” not “the school are”). In fact one of the primary drivers for this theory is that many times the Hebrew nouns are plural but use singular pronouns when referring to God in the Old Testament. E.g. “Let us (plural) make (singular) man in our image”. This could be from a complex unity but it could also be the One God speaking in the presence of His divine Son and Holy Spirit. Oneness people will explain that verses like this are the One God in the presence of angels, but we are not created in the image of angels. The One God in the presence of the Godhead fits much better.
So the plural Hebrew forms for God will fit with either version of the Trinity. However as we’ve shown there are scriptural problems with some of the other aspects of the Nicaean Trinity. And the complicated explanation of the plurality in the Godhead which looks like polytheism, has driven some people to try very hard to remove the separate deity of Jesus to create a one person God. But in doing so they cause much more serious errors with the person of Jesus. I wonder if the “early Trinity” had been more widely known if it would have prevented some of this, since it’s very simple, Biblically sound, and has a one person God. But in the end I don’t have any actual problem with the Nicaean Trinity since it doesn’t violate the divinity and separate person of Jesus.
The first way to have absolutely One God (as one person), called Monarchianism, is Modalism (Modalistic Monarchianism). A true modalist believes that God became Jesus and that there is just an appearance that they talk back and forth to each other, but actually they’re the same person taking different modes. The difficulties, which can easily be pointed out, are all the clear Biblical passages where they have to be two separate persons or beings or “centers of consciousness” as some say, as I’ll explain. Another Modalist idea to explain different centers of consciousness is that the flesh of Jesus talks to Jesus (the One God who is in the form of Jesus). But though the flesh has a pull on us, it never carries on an intelligent conversation with us. Other verses don’t fit either, as we’ll get into.
In this view Jesus is totally the person of God so He is divine, in fact The Divine, so this view doesn’t deny the deity of Jesus. Therefore it isn’t as bad as Arianism (discussed next). However, there are some verses in 1 John that talk about the need to acknowledge the Father and the Son. With modalism you acknowledge both but think they are the same person so you don’t really have both persons. These verses seem to have a different context (Gnosticism) so modalism might not be condemned in these verses. But it is concerning.
Arianism is a different way to see a One-Person-God doctrine (dynamic Monarchianism). They believe in adoptionalism which is where God adopted a normal man named Jesus and bestowed His divinity on Him at Jesus’ baptism (or maybe at another point) and then removed it at Jesus’ death. So it’s easy to explain the conversations between them. The difficulty is it makes Jesus just a man and I think this is a very dangerous heresy.
Some people may try to blur the line between Modalism and Arianism. They may be unclear on the nature of Jesus and talk of both His God nature and his flesh nature, in addition to the One God. But if there is only one person of God, as they say, then this Jesus who talks in the Bible to God and the people must often times be just a man talking. You can’t maintain the distinction of two persons and a One-person God without making Jesus only a man. Scriptures that show Jesus was with the Father before His earthly birth disprove Arianism. So they try to make these scriptures look like Jesus was just a “thought” in the mind or bosom of God (misinterpreting John 1:18). But as I’ll explain, you can clearly see Jesus himself has a memory of being with the Father. Also be careful because some might say the name of the One God is Jesus, which makes it confusing.
Summary of views on God
- Early Trinity. The One God is God the Father and Jesus is His eternal divine and perfectly subordinate Son who has been with him forever and was begotten into the body of a man. The mankind part of Jesus is only the flesh and its pull on mankind but not another “center of consciousness” that can carry on a coherent conversation.
- Nicaean Trinity. The One God is a complex unity. One being with multiple members, like one family for lack of a better term but much more than a family. They are all equal. Jesus was only subordinate to the Father while in the flesh.
- God became Jesus. The difficulty is the clear distinctions and interactions between Jesus and God the Father. Some may say the actual flesh of Jesus can think independently and carry on conversations with Jesus.
- God filled or gave deity to a normal man. Acknowledges the interactions and distinctions between Jesus and God but Jesus is only a man in those cases.
Verses concerning Jesus and God the Father
I probably missed some but I found 352 passages (many have multiple verses) that describe the relationship between Jesus and the Father. There are another 73 that mention God and Jesus but nothing could be quickly discerned in their relationship (it’s code Z in the spreadsheet if you want to give feedback). I put the verses in various common categories, assigned codes for them, and counted the verses in each category as shown below. See the full table, including the text of the verses, here: http://www.libertyoftruth.com/trinityverses.html
Below are the categories with their codes (A thru K) and how many passages are in each category, along with a brief description. This again is just a summary; they are discussed in detail later. The letters correspond to the Codes in the above-linked table if you want to look at the various verses.
- 146 Passages. These clearly show Jesus and God are separate.
- 7 Passages. In these, it appears that Jesus and God are separate but it’s not clear.
- 116 Passages. In these Jesus and the Father are listed separately in verses so it appears Jesus and God are separate members of the Godhead but it could conceivably be different roles of one being – e.g. “our God and Father…”. This is two roles of God the Father. However unlike “our God and Father…”, saying things like “peace [to you] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” seems like two different persons. Saying this over and over thru the New Testament as referring to different roles of God, but without one clear verses saying such is very unlikely. So it’s most likely separate members.
- 44 Passages. Jesus is called the Son of God. In 13 passages it seems like just the name He went by. In 32 passages it’s used in a more meaningful way, referring to his Sonship in some way.
Confusing passages that are used to support Modalism
- 9 Passages. Call out one God and no other, which Oneness people would say cast doubt on a Triune God or a separate divine Son. Two are in Deuteronomy and 7 are in Isaiah. However nearby verses, such as Isaiah 42:1–4 or 53:4-10, show that God and the Messiah are separate beings. So these verses emphasizing only one God must still allow there being a separate divine Son of God.
- 10 Passages. Different passages swap names from God the Father and Jesus. E.g. The Old Testament passage “prepare the way of the LORD (Yahweh).” The New Testament mentions this in relation to Jesus. These passages can be understood by how Jesus came representing Yahweh as his representative and how He and Jesus are perfectly united and in each other.
- 4 Passages. Jesus says “I am”. As explained later, these are mixed in with verses where Jesus clearly refers to His Father so they must have a tone of Jesus being like the great “I Am” but that He is not the great “I Am” exactly.
- 2 Passages. The Father and I are One. If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father, which Jesus explains is the Father in Him and He in the Father. Supernatural spiritual concepts that are used for the relationship between us and Jesus as well (clearly separate persons).
- 5 Passages. Jesus is called God but the nearby verses clearly distinguish between God and Jesus as separate members. These are actually strong support for Jesus being called God in a general sense without Him being “the God”. The principle is established by these verses so it would also apply for verses where the Father is not mentioned but I actually didn’t find any.
- 8 Passages. Jesus may be called God but the verses have difficulty interpreting the Greek or who it’s talking about because of intermixing verses about the Father, etc. All of them have nearby verses that talk about Jesus being a separate person from the Father.
- 1 Passage. The favorite Oneness passage in Isaiah 9:6 which says the Messiah’s name will be called Mighty God, everlasting Father, and counselor. This is the only one that is remotely difficult to explain from a Trinity perspective. Isaiah is a somewhat cryptic book. It appears to be talking about the name that Jesus received from the Father, as Jesus talks about in John 17. Discussed later.
I do clearly see separate persons in the Godhead (meaning either version of the Trinity but not modalism or Arianism) because the natural reading of 100’s of verses in the New Testament would clearly lead to an understanding that God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are individual persons of a Godhead: they are listed separately, they refer to each other as though to another person, God the father knows things Jesus doesn’t, and they even distinctly talk back and forth to each other (not just as in how our flesh pulls on us). Then Jesus even mentions His Father as a 2nd witness to his authority in context of the Old Testament Law, which is actually perjury if He’s the same being in two forms. There are many more reasons to support this idea of them being separate, which I’ll discuss. It’s the natural reading of at least 146 passages and probably 313 passages (counting the first four bolded categories above). To me, this makes so much more sense and easier to explain than the other ways of explaining it.
However I do see how sincere and earnest Christians can consider Oneness because of the polytheism feel of the Trinity and some confusion from a few verses. Context and common sense allow you to understand it just fine when you compare it to the clear verses. But when people get too strict or too literal with some of the confusing verses or apply literal interpretations to verses that were meant to be spiritual or symbolic, it gets confusing. I believe the Modalism or Oneness idea was introduced as a result of this confusion from a few verses but it’s actually very hard to read this idea into the other 95% of the verses. Only the few confusing verses taken literally can make the case at the expense of many other clearer verses. Most disputable doctrines are built by overemphasizing and adding interpretations to confusing verses like this. Instead, we should always use the clearer verses to explain the less clear ones.
I’ll mention these confusing verses and their arguments first and show how they can be explained with fairly logical discussions of how the Godhead is made up. Then I’ll present hundreds of verses that support the idea of individual members and how it would be much harder to give a natural and logical explanation to all of them.
I. Arguments against a plurality in the Godhead.
1) Isaiah 9:6.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
I’ll start with the hardest one. This is the strongest and most often cited verse for modalism. The Son’s name is called the Father and Counselor (Holy Spirit) so they say the Son must be the Father and Holy Spirit too. But keep in mind that Isaiah is a prophetic book and is often hard to understand with hidden meanings (The Jews still think Ch 53 is talking about the nation of Israel instead of the Messiah). And notice that His name is only called these things. The hidden meaning could be in Jesus’ name. Isaiah is a conglomerate name for “Yahweh Saves” (Isai = saves, Iah / Yah = Yahweh). So Isaiah’s name has the name of the Lord Yahweh right in it. But just as no one is saying Isaiah is Yahweh, we would not say the child prophesied about in Isaiah 9:6 is God Yahweh. Jesus, Hebrew YahShua, is also a conglomerate name from similar Hebrew root words and also means Yahweh Saves. So the name Jesus is a perfect fulfilment of this verse. His name carries the Godhead and all their attributes right in it.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:23
6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. … 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:6, 11, 26
Many people also say that “Everlasting Father” can be better translated as “Father of eternity” (Hebrew: ab ad). The word ‘ad (eternity) is in the construct state, the normal way Hebrew expresses the possessive—the noun possessed is put into this state. Thus a better translation is “Father of Eternity”. The term father could be the one to bring something in, like the father of those who live in tents or play the harp and flute as in Gen 4:20, 21 and not a literal father. So Jesus is the one who brings in the everlasting life.
2) John 1:1
In the beginning [imperfect Greek form, not a specific time] was the Word, and the Word was with God [indicates they are separate], and the Word was God [see below].2 The same was in the beginning with God [again separate].
This is one of those places in the Bible where Jesus is directly called “God” as a deity term. Modalists would use this to say that God and Jesus are the same person since they’re both called God. But if you read the context you can clearly see that it’s using the term generically for the Godhead or deity as I discussed in the summary. The word has that ability to be translated as deity. Then the verse says Jesus was “with God” meaning He was a separate person from God the Father, which makes it even clearer. So it fits fine with either version of the Trinity. It’s when people force the English interpretation of the word Theos for “the God” only when the trouble starts. If you see that the Greek allows the word to be translated “deity” or a member of the Godhead, then if fits fine and makes perfect sense.
In this passage the Greek sentence structure may further support that this word should be translated deity. In this phrase, “The Word was God” has a unique Greek sentence format. Greek scholars call it a Preverbal anarthrous predicate nominative which means it describes the nature of the clause. It’s rare but the KJV translates it “godly” 3 times. So it is referring to His nature of Deity not the person of God.
In the nearby verse 18 it says no one has seen God (the Father) but Jesus (who they did see) has made Him known, again indicating they are separate.
No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. John 1:18
3) Various verses emphasizing “one God”
See Code E in the table for the nine verses in this category. As mentioned earlier, two are in Deuteronomy and seven are in Isaiah. Nearby verses, such as Isaiah 42:1–4 or 53:4-10, show that God and the Messiah are separate beings. So these verses emphasizing only one God must still allow that there is a separate divine Son of God. The early Trinity says just that: There is one God that has a Son. A one-person God. This is very simple and fits easily and naturally with these verses. No complicated explanations.
The Nicaean Trinity also works but it’s not as clear – One God of multiple members in a complex unity. The concept of multiple people being one is very clearly seen in various scriptures, like the concept of husband and wife becoming one. You can be one but have separate members. In fact Jesus gives this key when He prays that we believers are one with each other (which is multiple members being one) as He and the Father are one (which is also multiple members being one). So with this view, when the Bible has the emphasis on there only being one God, it’s not emphasizing the oneness within the Godhead, that there is only one person in the Godhead. It is emphasizing that there is only one unified Godhead, which happens to be made of 3 members. However the verses do have a singularity feel, not a complex unity like this, so this is one weakness of the Nicaean Trinity. But it’s not an elimination of it.
4) Interchangeability of names.
See Code F in the table. Because of the unified nature of the 3 member Godhead and how they live within each other, various members can be called out in various Bible verses interchangeably. I.e. Spirit of God vs. Spirit of Jesus. And as I discussed in the summary, Jesus can be called God in a general sense so these are no problem if the terms “God” and “Jesus” are swapped. However there are three verses (Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah 45:21b-23, Joel 2:31-32) which specifically mention Yahweh (translated LORD in our Bibles) and the fulfillment is clearly Jesus. E.g. Joel 2:32 tells us to call on the name of Yahweh but the NT says to call on the name of Jesus. This is easy to understand since Jesus came representing God. An example would be when we built a house, we did the general contracting and contracted out to many builders. So you could say we built it or you could say the contractors built it and both would be correct.
This exact way of swapping persons is seen in who rules the world with a rod of iron. In Revelation 19:15, 12:5, Psalms 2:7-9 and Isaiah 11:4 it is Jesus who does this. However Jesus says in Revelation 2:26-28 that He will give this task to the people who are faithful to Him [quote verse]. So those people will rule the world with a rod of iron. They obviously do it in His name and under His authority, so both doing it and so both scriptures are correct. It’s the exact same way Jesus fulfils Old Testament verses for the Father. They are both doing it and so both are correct.
As a side note, a specific argument of modalism that relates to this is that part of the mission of the Messiah was to declare the name of the Father, but Yahweh is never written. Instead the name Jesus (Yeshua) was declared. I’m really surprised this argument is used because Jesus is clearly talking to His Father in these very verses.
6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. … Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one … 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. … 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17 (selected relevant passages)
You can see that Jesus is manifesting His Father to the people. In Hebrew thought, the name represented the person and what they do, not their literal name only (as the people believed in Jesus’ name in John 2:23 but it obviously meant they believed in Him). And you can see in vss 11 and 12 that Jesus’ name is actually His Father’s name which the Father gave Him. We’re not sure if this is the literal name “Jesus” or if it is again referring to his life or power or something. All this may be related to the Isaiah 9:6 passage I discussed earlier. At any rate it is clearly not a passage that supports Jesus is the same person as the Father. Jesus is clearly praying to His Father.
5) Jesus says “I Am”
See Code G in the table for these 4 passages in the Gospel of John. These “I am” statements are powerful statements which certainly reflect the eternally existent nature of the Godhead and is a reflection of Exodus 3:15 where God says He shall be called “I am”. The phrase in Hebrew is “Yahweh” and became the sacred name for God, which is translated LORD in our Old Testament. However these verses in the New Testament that say “I am” (Greek “Eimi”) can’t be used to link Jesus as being God the Father because each one of these “I am” verses are in chapters that are full of very clear verses showing the distinction between Jesus and God the Father. There are many surrounding passages to show the Trinity in the Gospel of John, but here are the 4
“I am” passages, which themselves clearly show Trinity verses:
24 Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” 25 Then they were saying to Him, “Who are You?” Jesus said to them, “What have I even been saying to you from the beginning? 26 I have many things to say and to judge regarding you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I say to the world.” 27 They did not realize that He was speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am, and I do nothing on My own, but I say these things as the Father instructed Me. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” John 8:24-29
54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. John 8:54-59
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. … 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he [*“he” is not in the Greek. See below.]. John 13:1,3, 19
4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he [* see below].” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he [* see below],” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he [* see below]. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” John 18:4-11 [and you’ll remember that in Matthew 26:53 Jesus adds that His Father could send twelve legions of angels]
* So you can see from these clear distinctions that the Bible didn’t mean for us to believe that Jesus was saying He is “the I am”, Yahweh. You’ll notice that in several of these verses the translators have added the word “he” to make it “I am he”, often in italics to show that it was added. This change, in some form, has been added to all major English translations including KJV, NASB, ESV, NIV and 20 other versions I checked on biblehub.com. This is because the translators can tell that the author didn’t mean to say Jesus was “the I am” so they translated the thought.
When you look at the whole Bible you’ll notice that though Jesus clearly showed Himself to be divine, He never once said He was God, only the Son of God. And in these “I am” verses He doesn’t say “I Am That I am” or “I am the I am”. He just says “I Am”. They powerfully reflect the eternally existent nature of God of Exodus 3; and that’s why He gets a strong reaction in two of the passages. But they just don’t say He IS the I Am. When you look at the surrounding verses and see clear distinction and interaction with His Father as a separate person, it’s clear that these verses are just expressing the eternity of His being and His oneness with the Father, which is a common and powerful theme in the Book of John (see 1:1).
It’s an interesting side note that because of this similarity in the “I am” statements of Yahweh in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament, and yet having the very clear distinctions of Jesus to the Father, Justin Martyr concluded (in his First Apology chapter 63) that Jesus was separate from the Father (Trinitarian) but that actually Yahweh in the Old Testament was Jesus in the Old Testament. E.g. He says Jesus was the one who spoke to Moses in the burning bush. Irenaeus (~180 A.D.) may have also believed this. (You’ll see plenty of quotes to show that both of these men were strong Trinitarians, early Trinity at that.) This is interesting but I don’t think so because of verses like this below in Psalms 110. In this verse, the LORD (Yahweh) is clearly speaking to David’s Lord to sit at His right hand (clearly referring to Jesus). Since Yahweh speaks to Jesus here, Yahweh must be God the Father. See other verses in part II, section 11 of this booklet.
The LORD [Hebrew Yahweh] said to my Lord [adown – regular word for “Lord”], Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Psalms 110:1
6) Jesus says He and the Father are One or in each other
This is Code H in the table but the two verses are also below. The Father and Son can also live within each other, just like Jesus is in us and we are in Him (John 14:20) but we are still separate beings. The tone of these passages are clearly separate beings that live within each other and are perfectly united, as the bold verses show.
29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” John 10:29,30
8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? The one who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own, but the Father, as He remains in Me, does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 12 Truly, truly I say to you, the one who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I am going to the Father. 13 And whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. 15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. 16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, so that He may be with you forever; 17 the Helper is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him; but you know Him because He remains with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you. 19 After a little while, the world no longer is going to see Me, but you are going to see Me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I in you. 21 The one who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him.” John 14:6-21.
7) Arm of Yahweh
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Isaiah 51:1 and John 12:38b
Modalists will sometimes use this verse to say that Jesus, as the “arm of the Lord”, was an extension of the same person, Yahweh, not a separate member. In John 12:28, just 10 verses prior, we have the verse where Jesus talked to the Father and the Father answered back, so this nearby context of John shows the Arm of Yahweh is clearly a different person. We have a modern example of this phrase being used and clearly a different person: Policemen can be referred to as the arm of the law, or limb of the law, and clearly are separate persons.
And also one being acting out in an extension of Himself would be problematic. If the arm were simply acting out the thoughts of the Father, like we would do with our arm, then all the verses that indicate individuality wouldn’t make sense. It would be like a ventriloquist talking to himself and asking himself questions and guidance. There’s just no reason to go to this extreme eisegesis.
8) Jesus is the name above all names?
Modalists will ask how Jesus is the “name above every name”, as Philippians 2:9 (below) says, when He is less than the Father as He said in John 14:28b (“the Father is greater than I”)? It’s just meant to be taken in context that it’s excluding the Father since the Father is the one giving him the name. The distinction of the Father and Jesus is clear in both of these very passages. Also take note that this Philippians passage falls in line with the early Trinity, where God is just called God and Jesus is separate. So you have God and the Son of God, Jesus.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9
9) Did the apostles baptize only in the name of Jesus?
Modalists will also ask, “Why did Jesus say to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit but in Acts they only baptize in the name of Jesus”? They will say that Jesus was “the name” of all three forms of the one modalistic God. They look at the different wording of the passages in Matthew and Acts to conclude (a dangerous hermeneutic) that when you baptize in the name of “Jesus” you are baptizing in the “name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. But as I mentioned earlier, in Hebrew thought the person’s name represented the whole person. So it’s just saying to baptize in the separate persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All three should be in mind when baptizing.
And as far as why there is different wording: Matthew 28 spells out the whole process of the three persons of the Trinity because it is giving instructions how to baptize. The verses in Acts are just mentioning the baptism, that of Jesus, differentiating it from the baptism of John or other religious people.
Some will even say that the Church always baptized in only the name of Jesus from the time of Acts on (~30 A.D.). But Tertullian (213 A.D.) and the Didache Ch 7 (~70 – 150 A.D.) which was clearly written after Acts, also directs Christians to “baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Matthew 28:19
“Jesus commands them to baptize into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–not into a unipersonal God.” (Tertullian, C. 213,W,3.623)
“And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19 in living water [running water]. But if you have not living water, baptize into other water…” Didache Ch 7
Oneness proponents will point out that chapter 9 of the Didache mentions a Baptism only in the name of the Lord. But if you read chapter 9 it is full of references to the Father and Jesus Christ the Lord in separate terms. The reason it only mentions the baptism of Jesus is, like Acts, it is only mentioning the baptism, not describing how to do it. So chapter 7 describes how to do it and chapter 9 just mentions it.
“Now concerning the Thanksgiving (Eucharist), thus give thanks. First, concerning the cup: We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David Your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory forever. And concerning the broken bread: We thank You, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory forever. … for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever. But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, ‘Give not that which is holy to the dogs. Matthew 7:6’ ” Didache Ch 9
10) Jesus is the shepherd and the door to the sheepfold at the same time.
This is mixing thoughts from two different parables in John 10. We should never take something from a parable that wasn’t the message of the parable.
11) Verses that describe “God coming in the flesh”, “God with us”, etc.
As explained in the beginning summary and item 4 above, the word God, can apply to Jesus or the Godhead as a whole. Jesus became flesh and represented the Godhead as they all live within each other.
12)Jesus was in heaven while talking to Nicodemus (John 3:13)
And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. John 3:13
The phrase “which is in heaven” is not in the earlier Greek manuscripts so it seems to have been added later through a copy mistake. However, it is in an early church document that quotes this verse, called “Against Noetus”, which was originally written around 205 A.D. But the only copy we have of it was found in the 1800’s and most likely is a later copy itself (I couldn’t find the date of the copy), which was changed to match the later text.
But even assuming the text is correct, we still see the clear distinction between Jesus and His Father in this chapter (verses 16,17,34,& 36). So it takes a lot of eisegesis on this unclear verse and ignoring clearer verses to make the case for modalism; And it really doesn’t even fit then. For modalists who believe that God became Jesus, it doesn’t fit because the one person of Jesus/God is right there talking to Nicodemus; He’s not in heaven as the verse says.
So you have to believe in some kind of omnipresence and if you do that, you might as well believe in the omnipresence of Jesus or that Jesus is referring to being in the Father. Jesus, being divine, could certainly have still been omnipresent while in human form – not sure. Or it could have been that this is referring to how the Father was in Him and He was in the Father, clearly taught in this same gospel of John. He also saw Nathaniel from a distance (John 1:48), healed from a distance (John 4), and foresaw or commanded nature from a distance (the coin in the fish’s mouth, Matt 17:27). As Gregory of Nazianzus warns, “good theologians know when to speak and when to be silent.” So I’ll admit I don’t know which of these it is. However, it is clear that they are not one person from the clear surrounding context.
13)No one has seen the Father
No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:12
No one has seen God at any time; God the only Son, who is in the arms of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1:18
Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. John 6:46 [in context this is very clear that it is Jesus who is from God]
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does His works. John 14:8-10
Since people clearly saw Jesus and these first three verses say no one has seen God the Father, these verses would seem to be a clear case for separate persons of God and Jesus. And plainly read, even John 14 (which has the unclear verse) is clear that Jesus and His Father are separate persons, as I’ve highlighted in bold. So you can naturally see that Jesus is saying that since He represents the Father exactly (Hebrews 1:3) you can see the Father when you see Him since they are in each other. Not the Father’s exact image, no one can see that (1 Tim 6:15, Exodus 33:20) but you can see the Father’s essence, His character, His heart by seeing Jesus.
But try to follow this amazing amount of eisegesis that some Modalists try to add to these verses. I think I have it right. They start out that Jesus/God (the One God) was separated in His spirit from his body when He went to paradise and preached to the spirits in prison while his body lay in the grave, and I agree. But they continue: with this correct distinction between God’s Spirit and body, some modalists will say that when people saw God’s body they actually saw God in His mode as the Father because that’s when He made the body. So that’s what it means in John 14:9 where it says if you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen the Father. You may be surprised to see such acrobatics when they can just say that when you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen the Father because it’s the same person. But it has to be complicated like this for the next point they make. The point is complete imagination though because there’s certainly no mention of body in this verse, which would be the main point of the verse if true so it would surely say that. You can see serious eisegesis now, but it continues.
The next part is even harder for them. The first three verses say no one has seen God. So they say that people didn’t see the One God when they clearly saw Him with them, because they didn’t truly see him in Spirit which is His real essence. But the verses don’t say anything about truly seeing Him or anything like this, which again would be the main point of the verse if it was true and so it would surely say that. It should be obvious that these are scripture acrobatics to prove a pre-held idea. It’s an example of what I said at the beginning where people take unclear verses too far and make a view and then have to use amazing eisegesis to other scriptures to maintain that view.
It’s so much easier to say no one has seen the Father (a separate person) but Jesus revealed Him as John 1:18 naturally explains. When you take these scriptures at face value with two members of the Godhead it’s very simple and straightforward. And when we see Jesus we see the Father because the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. Jesus explains this unclear verse right away in the next verse. It’s like how we say people can see Jesus in us by how we live.
14)No one has seen Jesus?
In 1 Timothy 6:14-16 it can be misinterpreted to say no one has seen Jesus (vs no one has seen God in the previous discussion). Just like in the previous discussion Modalists here again say it must mean no one saw His Spirit, His true nature. But once again, this would be the main point of the passage so it should say something like that. And if you look at the verse you can see it’s actually talking about God the Father again, since the Father is called the “Father of Lights” in James 1:17 and simply “Light” in 1 John 1:5 (below).
13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5
Or it could be translated, “who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, which no one has ever seen or can see”. If so then it’s referring to the light not as a person but as an object, the Shekinah glory of God. This is possible because the Greek word here for “whom” (Greek “Hos”, G3739) is actually translated “which” more often than whom. (418 times in the KJV vs 270 times for “whom”) Either of these interpretations give about the same idea (God Himself or just His Glory) and would be more likely than this new idea that we didn’t really see Jesus in His true being of His Spirit, which is never discussed in the Bible. In fact the Bible says several times that people saw Jesus, including this clear passage below which emphasizes the natural seeing and touching of Jesus.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:1-3
15) Jesus was tempted but God can’t be tempted.
[Jesus] was tempted in every way … Hebrews 4:15
… God cannot be tempted … James 1:13
This actually seems like a real good verse for them being separate members in a Trinity and fits great with the early Trinity idea. It’s hard for modalists. So to get around this, Modalism has to add to these scriptures, as we keep seeing, and talk about flesh vs the Spirit of God and how only the flesh was tempted. This is a weak argument because, according to modalism, it was the One God who was in the flesh as Jesus so they are the same person. And the Bible clearly says Jesus was tempted, not His flesh. If you make the flesh separate from Jesus then this verse doesn’t apply because it says Jesus was tempted. And if you make the flesh part of Jesus and Jesus is the same person as God, then God is tempted and the 2nd verse is in error. The only way both verses work is if Jesus is separate from God.
Some Modalists actually makes the flesh of Jesus like a different person from the One God, with its own will and desires, to explain other scriptures like this that make it clear there are two persons. Another example is not knowing when “it” (Jesus’ flesh) was coming back (I’ll talk about all these). So Jesus’ actual flesh was literally talking to us in the Bible when IT said IT didn’t know when IT was coming back again. It couldn’t have been God/Jesus (One God) talking because He did know. So it had to be the flesh talking on its own independent from God/Jesus. See how twisted this can get? It would be like the flesh of Jesus continuing to talk to people while hanging on the cross after Jesus gave up His Spirit. No, No. Our flesh may exert an inanimate incoherent un-personal force on us, but it does exactly what we tell it. Modalists will use the example of us talking to ourselves to show that this is possible. But there is not an actual separate will and mind speaking coherently to us when we talk to ourselves. That’s called schizophrenia and it’s probably a demon or just plain insanity.
So you can see that the case for Modalism has to take unclear scriptures and add a lot to them, over and over again. The Trinity idea is much easier to understand with well-defined principles that the Bible clearly states, like being in one another and perfectly united. Or different uses of the Greek word Theos. I think you’ll see that the verses that would support a 3 person Godhead are much more numerous and clear.
II. Scriptures supporting multiple members
(Not modes or manifestations).
By the way, many of these verses are in the KJV because that’s what I used in my first draft and I just haven’t changed them. I usually use the ESV or NASB now because they are also word for word translations and are clearer to read, which is important when understanding this complicated topic. If the KJV adds something significant I’ll comment on it.
1) Verses where Jesus and God the Father talk back and forth.
The natural reading would lead the reader to simply believe that Jesus is separate from the Father and actually talking to Him. It would be very strange, and almost deceptive, for this to be the same member talking to Himself.
If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.27 Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.28 Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. John 12:26
21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, 22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. Luke 3 (also Mark 1:11)
While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. Matthew 17:5 (also Mark 9:7)
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 2 Peter 1:16-18
2) Jesus prays to the Father.
Again this would not make sense if it was one person. The whole chapter of John 17 is a beautiful high-priestly prayer to the Father but I won’t take the space to include it all here. Be sure to read it though. Here is another famous one below.
39 And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.42 He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.43 And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.44 And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Luke 22:39-44
3) Jesus at the right hand of God.
If they are the same person why would this be?
55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Acts 7:55-56
42 Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David.43 He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying,44 The Lord [Yahweh] said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?45 If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?46 And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions. Matthew 22 Also Luke 20:42. Acts 2:34,
So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. Mark 16:19
Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. Acts 2:33
Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Romans 8:34
20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come 22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. Ephesians 1:20-23
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.7 And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.8 But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Hebrews 1:1-8
Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; Hebrews 8:1
4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. 5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: 6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. 8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; 9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.
14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Hebrews 10:4-14
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2
Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. 1 Peter 3:22
4) Limited knowledge. He didn’t know things the Father knew.
Matthew 20:23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.
Matthew 24:36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
How could this be the same person? We discussed earlier that some Modalists have developed a very difficult concept that the flesh of Jesus had a separate will and desire from Jesus/God. And I showed earlier that this flesh wasn’t actually God at all because it was tempted and God can’t be tempted. So it was the flesh speaking these coherent words on its own and independent of the true Spirit God. How this flesh could be speaking and expressing this lack of knowledge and later its own will (next point below) without being a separate person is almost creepy (Enough said). And if you do accept the flesh as a person but not divine, then you have Arianism. And if you accept the flesh as a divine 2nd person, you have the Trinity.
5) Jesus follows the Father’s will.
Again, the natural reading would be that Jesus is submitting to God the Father as a separate member of the Godhead. This is not a mere talking to oneself and pushing thru to do the right thing, as the modalists say. It is simple statements of Jesus doing the Father’s will.
Luke 2:49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?
If this were the same member in a different form, statements like this above would say “I must be about my eternal business”, not refer to another member.
Matthew 26:39 And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
Luke 22:42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
John 5:30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. … 36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. [The missing verses are used in the next point]
John 8:27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
John 17 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: 2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. 3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. 4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. 6 I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. 7 Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. 8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.
So again, this is not talking to yourself. It’s talking to a separate person.
6) Jesus gives His Father as a 2nd witness.
This is a big one. Jesus gives Himself and His Father as two witnesses to meet the requirements of the Law for a valid testimony – making this a serious issue. So this would be dishonest to the point of perjury if He was the same member. There can be no doubt that they are two persons here.
30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. 31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen. John 5:30-37
13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” John 8:13-18
7) Other verses where Jesus refers to the Father as another person.
Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Mark 15:34 also)
John 5:45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.
Matthew 11:27 All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.
Matthew 16:17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 26:53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
Mark 8:38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
Luke 10:22 All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.
Luke 22:29 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me;
John 6:65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
John 15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:
John 14: 23-25, 28, 31 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him… 24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. 25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. 26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. … 28 Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. … 31 But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.
Psalms 45: 6 Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. 7 Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. [later Jesus uses this passage to say David was referring to Himself and His Father]
Isaiah 48:16 Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me.
There are many many more, Search “my father” in an online Bible search and look at all of them. Many show a separate member.
8) Jesus is our mediator to the Father.
He is our high priest, our mediator. Again this would be deceptive or misleading if Jesus is the same member as the Father. This is a predominant theme of the book of Hebrews.
1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
Hebrews 2:17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
Hebrews 7:25: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them,”
Hebrews 9:24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:
Romans 8:34: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
John 17: Read the whole chapter. This is where Jesus prays for us. It has strong individual language between Jesus and the Father. Like verse 5: And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
9) Jesus is in a separate tier from the Father in the chain of command.
1 Corinthians 11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
10)God refers to Himself in the plural
Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image …
Genesis 3:22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
The Hebrew words Elohim (Hebrew word for God) and Adonai (lord when used for God) throughout the Old Testament are plural. Just like in Genesis 1 here “let us (plural) make (Hebrew uses singular verb) man…”. So you have a plural noun doing a singular action. As I explained in the beginning summary, this would fit with both versions of the Trinity.
The Oneness position is often that this is a “plural of majesty”, where plurality is given to nouns of special importance. I tried to find out if this was even used in the Old Testament times. All the clear examples are modern ones. To make the case for it being in the OT, they have to find verses where the plural is used for singular honorable people or things. However the case seemed weak because many times it could be referring to plural nouns. Rulers using a plural form makes perfect sense when they are around other people/beings because they are representing the peoples/beings. For example when Queen Victoria said “We are not amused” (the famous example), it makes sense because she was representing other people. It would hold true if the other people were present or not since she holds that office where she represents others. So we can’t automatically dismiss this plurality as being a plural of majesty.
It is especially hard in these verses above where God says “us”. This is out of my league so I looked it up and found a very scholarly document called “Encyclopedia Of Hebrew Language And Linguistics Volume 3, General Editor Geoffrey Khan, published by Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-17642-3. On the top left of page 146 it says “There are no undisputed examples of a pronoun or a verb displaying the pluralis majestatis; plural self-reference by a deity”. It gives references for further study. So using the “plural of majesty” argument may not work for these plural nouns for God in the Bible.
Because of this difficulty, some modalists say that God is referring to angels and they give instances where angels are present. But angels don’t create so it doesn’t seem likely that God would say to them “Let US create man…”, though you could on a limb say He was inviting them to watch. But another point is that the rest of the verse, “create man in OUR image” would not fit angels because we are not created in the image of angels. So some modalists will use a lot of eisegesis to say that “us” refers to God and the thought of His Son to be born later, because He speaks outside of time. And the “Our” is His own spiritual attributes combined with the thought of Jesus. Clearly a lot of eisegesis. Or they can say God takes counsel with His own Wisdom and Will and say this is fairly normal, like how we talk to ourselves. But we’re not actually talking back and forth to ourselves. We’re just thinking things through. So you can see that the Modalist position has to use quite a lot of eisegesis here.
11)Old Testament Prophesies of the Messiah that show Him separate from the Father.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Isaiah 53:4, 6, 10
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,…
7 I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalms 2:1-2,7-12)
“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:9–11).
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?” (Psalm 22:1)
“‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say,
‘let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him'” (Psalm 22:8).
“Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God” (Psalm 31:5).
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of joy above Your companions. (Psalm 45:7)
The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psalms 110:1)
“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1).
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—
but my ears you have opened—
burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—
it is written about me in the scroll.
I desire to do your will, my God;
your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:6–8).
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope” (Isaiah 42:1–4).
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1)
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13–14).
12)Jesus told us to pray to the Father in His name
This certainly doesn’t make sense if He is the Father too.
Matthew 6:9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
John 15:16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
John 16: 23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. …. 26 At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: 27 For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.
Ephesians 5:20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
13)1 & 2 John
The first two epistles of John have a strong emphasis on both God the Father and His Son, starting with the very first of 1 John 1 below. 1 John Chapters 4 and 5 especially are trying to convince the reader of Jesus being God’s Son. The recipients apparently were facing challenges of believing in God the Father but not in Jesus as His Son. The focus could have been against Gnosticism (which says Jesus wasn’t the Son of God at all, or He didn’t come in the flesh) but in doing so the scriptures here talk a lot about the Father and the Son and it’s all clear that they are separate members of the Godhead. 1 John 5:12,13 is that super serious passage that says if you don’t believe in the Son you don’t have eternal life. I can’t include all of these two epistles but this language is throughout these books. Here are just some examples.
1 John 1
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
1 John 2
21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.24 Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
1 John 4
12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
1 John 5
1Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat [this is clearly the Father] loveth him also that is begotten of him [the Son] … .5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.10 He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.8 Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
14) Other Verses where God is clearly a distinct person from the Son
Modalists will say all the Biblical verses that refer to God and Jesus separately are the two forms of the One God. Verses like “our God and Father…” are like this – two words for the same person. However other verses have a different make up and so they look like different persons. E.g. “peace [to you] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Saying this over and over thru the New Testament as referring to different roles of God, but without one clear verses saying such is very unlikely. So it’s most likely separate members. I counted over 116 verses that would fall in the unclear category. They are in the table under code “C”.
However in addition to these, I counted 146 clear Biblical references that do strongly indicate the Father and Jesus are separate persons by how they talk to each other or refer to each other. See Code A in the table for all these verses. A few are below for examples. Ps: Some of the 146 are in the specific sections I’ve already discussed, like lack of knowledge, a 2nd witness, and a different will, etc.
29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:29
53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? Matthew 26:53
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:52
34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” Luke 23
46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Luke 23
“30 “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
31 “If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true. John 5:30-32″
16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. John 7:16-18
28 So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. 29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” John 7:28-29
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. John 8:42
49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. John 8:49
49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” John 12:49,50
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. … Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, John 13:1,3
8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3
4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. John 17
21 that they may all be one, just 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 have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— Acts 2:22
The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. Acts 5:30
24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to our God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is clear that this excludes the Father who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28
3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 2 Corinthians 11:3
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24
III. More arguments for multiple members of a Godhead.
These are the scriptural arguments which aren’t as conclusive or non-Biblical arguments so I put them in a separate section.
1) Jesus told us to baptize in the name of the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit.
As mentioned earlier, Jesus instructs us to baptize in the name of all three persons of the Trinity. And when someone refers to this baptism they can simply call it the baptism of Jesus. Remember in the Bible the name of a person strongly represented the person themselves, not so much the literal name. It was not as detached as Western society has made it. That’s why people’s names in Bible were so important and they even changed names sometimes. So this verse is saying to baptize in the “name”, or persons, of the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit. This would indicate that they are separate persons. However it’s inconclusive because it could be different modes (though unlikely) so I just put it here in the auxiliary section. See the first section on modalism arguments for a more detailed discussion of this idea.
2) The translators of the KJV believed in the Godhead (a Trinity term).
We are all grateful for the sacrifice and courage of the special men behind the KJV version. So I will note that they translated three different types of Greek words that have a “deity” or “divine nature” meaning, into the specific Trinity term “Godhead”. (They also translated the terms divine in other places as well when it was called for in context).
Act 17:29 – Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God (theos G2316), we ought not to think that the Godhead (theios, G2304) is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
Rom 1:20 – For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead (theiotēs G2305); so that they are without excuse:
Colossians 2:9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead (theotēs, G2320) bodily.
3) Early Church Fathers.
Since they are not Biblical sources you can’t take new doctrine from the early church fathers but when they agree with the Bible it’s interesting to get their perspective. And some will say the early church fathers believed in modalism. So I thought I’d share how they certainly didn’t. It seems that for the first 150 years or so the early church fathers used the term God for the Father, and Jesus was listed separately – the early Trinity view. Then around 170 is the first mention of the more advanced Trinity terms of Jesus being equal with God and the term “God the Son” being used. This became more common in the 200’s and in the 300’s the Trinity concept really started getting complex. The only time modalism terms were mentioned was in condemnation, in fact calling it Heresy. I don’t believe it is heresy but it is something to consider. Here is what they said:
“Do we not have one God and One Christ, is there not one Spirit of Grace poured out on us.” Clement of Rome, c 96 A.D.
Ignatius of Antioch (martyred ~110 A.D.) provides early support for the Trinity around 110 A.D., exhorting obedience to “Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit”.
“Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles, that so all things, whatsoever ye do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; in the beginning and in the end; with your most admirable bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God. Be ye subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual.” Ignatius —Epistle to the Magnesians, Paragraph 13
are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed. Ignatius – Epistle to the Magnesians Paragraph 6.
“Like the stones of a temple, cut for a building of God the Father, you have been lifted up to the top by the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the Cross, and the rope of the Holy Spirit” Ignatius —Epistle to the Ephesians Paragraph 9
“For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost.” Ignatius —Epistle to the Ephesians Paragraph 18
“Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; impalpable and impassible, yet who became passible on our account; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes.” Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp # 3
“For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, through whom with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now [and ever] and for the ages to come. Amen.” —Martyrdom of Polycarp 14:3. This is his final prayer before his martyrdom
Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) wrote a famous Apology defending Christianity in about 150 A.D. Many of his paragraphs are defending the coming of Christ and His divinity separate from the Father, as fulfilment of prophesy (13, 32-41, 45-53). He wrote in terms of early Trinity. Some modalists will try to smear his credibility by quoting him as saying Jesus is “another God”. But this quote is found in “Dialogue With Trypho, ch. LVI”. Justin is just answering Trypho the Jew, who had challenged him in Chapter 55 (different people number chapters differently though) to show in the Old Testament where there is “another God” beside the one supreme God. Justin is pointing out verses in the Old Testament that show “another God” that Trypho asked for.
They will also try to smear his credibility by quoting him as saying Jesus is an angel. But if you read any good portion of his Apology, including the chapter this comes from (Ch 63), you’ll see he very much believed in the full divinity of Jesus. He was saying it was Jesus who appeared various times as an angel or even in the Fire with Moses in the Old Testament. As I discussed earlier in Part I, Section 5, Justin was a strong Trinitarian, but I think he was wrong in saying that Jesus was Yahweh.
“We will prove that we worship him reasonably; for we have learned that he is the Son of the true God himself, that he holds a second place, and the Spirit of prophecy a third. For this they [unbelievers that he is writing his defense of the Christian faith to] accuse us of madness, saying that we attribute to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all things; but they are ignorant of the mystery which lies therein” Justin Martyr, First Apology 13:5–6 151 A.D.
“The most true God, is the Father of righteousness. We worship and adore Him and the Son and the prophetic Spirit.” Justin Martyr First Apology Ch 6.
“For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets; but now in the times of your reign, having, as we before said, become Man by a virgin, according to the counsel of the Father.” First Apology Ch 65.
In his “Dialogues with Trypo”, chapter 56:
no one with even the slightest intelligence would dare to assert that the Creator and Father of all things left His super-celestial realms to make Himself visible in a little spot on earth.” Dialogues with Trypo, chapter 60
As I mentioned earlier, it is interesting that in his debate against Trypo, I think he actually goes too far to say that the Yahweh of the Old Testament is actually Christ, though he still very much believed that He was a separate person from God the Father as you can tell.
Athenagoras (c. 133-190 AD) wrote in AD 177. His writing has a hint of “advanced” Trinitarian terms and so the classical Trinitarians call him one of their own. If so it is the earliest quote I found like this. He wrote that the Son of God (or Logos) was the One by whom the Father made all things and that the Father and Son are one in power of spirit and mentions their “power in union”. This isn’t exactly like later Trinitarian terms that state that just they are equal in power. He is also the first I found to call Jesus “God the Son”. The last quote has some verbiage that sounds a little like Logos theology (the literal word of God spoke Jesus into Being at a certain point) but then he says Jesus is “not as having been brought into existence” so it must not actually be Logos Theology. It appears to be more that the person of Jesus was within God from eternity past. It’s a little confusing.
Nor let anyone think it ridiculous that God should have a Son. For though the poets, in their fictions, represent the gods as no better than men, our mode of thinking is not the same as theirs, concerning either God the Father or the Son. But the Son of God is the Logos of the Father, in idea and in operation; for after the pattern of Him and by Him were all things made, the Father and the Son being one.
And the Son being in the Father and the Father in the Son, in oneness and power of spirit, the understanding and reason of the Father is the Son of God. But if, in your surpassing intelligence, it occurs to you to inquire what is meant by the Son, I will state briefly that He is the first product of the Father, not as having been brought into existence, for from the beginning, God, who is the eternal mind, had the Logos in Himself, being from eternity instinct with Logos; but inasmuch as He came forth to be the idea and energizing power of all material things, which lay like a nature without attributes, and an inactive earth, the grosser particles being mixed up with the lighter.
The prophetic Spirit also agrees with our statements. “The Lord” it says, “made me, the beginning of His ways to His works.” The Holy Spirit Himself also, which operates in the prophets, we assert to be an effluence of God, flowing from Him, and returning back again like a beam of the sun. Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists? ANF,II:133
The first writer to use the word Trinity, Theophilus in 181 A.D., uses it in the early Trinitarian form with no mention of Jesus being God or any discussion of equality of being.
“The three days before the luminaries were created are types of the Trinity, God, his Word, and his Wisdom.” Theophilus of Antioch in his letter “To Autolycus” chapter 2:15. 181 A.D. [Wisdom, Sophia, is a term commonly used for the Holy Spirit at that time. See article link below]
Irenaeus (disciple of Polycarp, c. 130-202 AD) wrote around 180 A.D. in early Trinity terms:
“For the Church, although dispersed throughout the whole world even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and from their disciples the faith in one God, the Father Almighty . . . and in one Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit” Irenaeus, “Against Heresies” Ch 1:10:1 189 A.D.
“He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: through His Word, who is His Son, through Him He is revealed and manifested to all to whom He is revealed; for those [only] know Him to whom the Son has revealed Him. But the Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues, and all to whom He wills that God should be revealed.” (AH, Book 2, Ch30, section 9)
“It was not angels, therefore, who made us, nor who formed us, neither had angels power to make an image of God, nor any one else, except the Word of the Lord, nor any Power remotely distant from the Father of all things. For God did not stand in need of these [beings], in order to the accomplishing of what He had Himself determined with Himself beforehand should be done, as if He did not possess His own hands. For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, “Let Us make man after Our image and likeness; ” (AH, Book 4, Ch20, section 1).
“The Word, that is, the Son, was always with the Father.” (AH, Book 4, Ch20, section 3)
Here is a very in depth discussion of the trinity in early church Fathers up to around 180. Start around page 171 of this document: https://epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1108&context=dissertations_mu
Hippolytus of Rome confronts the modalist Noetus around 220 A.D.
The Father’s Word, therefore, knowing the economy and the will of the Father, to wit, that the Father seeks to be worshipped in none other way than this, gave this charge to the disciples after he rose from the dead: “Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matt 28:19) And by this he showed that whosoever omitted any one of these, failed in glorifying God perfectly. For it is through the Trinity that the Father is glorified. For the Father willed, the Son did and the Spirit manifested. —Against Noetus
In 225 Hippolytus later spoke of people saying “Some of them assent to the heresy of the Noetians, affirming the Father Himself is the Son.”
In the early 200’s there are many clear and lengthy dissertations from Tertullian and Origen. They still have an early Trinitarian tone. You can search for them easily. He directly confronts the modalist Praxeas. Praxeas held that the Word of God (Jesus Christ) meant nothing more than the word of his mouth (However later he recanted this teaching). Monarchianism agreed with Praxeas and Praxeans is a name given to one of the Christian sects of the early Church who denied the distinction of persons in the Godhead.
“We do indeed believe that there is only one God, but we believe that under this dispensation, or, as we say, oikonomia, there is also a Son of this one only God, his Word, who proceeded from him and through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made. . . . We believe he was sent down by the Father, in accord with his own promise, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father and the Son, and in the Holy Spirit” Tertullian “Against Praxeas” Ch 2 216 A.D.
“Jesus commands them to baptize into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–not into a unipersonal God.” (Tertullian, C. 213,W,3.623)
In the next chapter of this letter from Tertullian, he addresses the concern the masses had that the distinction between God and Jesus feels like polytheism. He explains how there can be one God but there is also His Son and Holy Spirit subordinate and perfectly united to him so there is no conflict with this one supreme God.
“The simple, indeed, (I will not call them unwise and unlearned,) who always constitute the majority of believers, are startled at the dispensation (of the Three in One), on the ground that their very rule of faith withdraws them from the world’s plurality of gods to the one only true God; not understanding that, although He is the one only God, He must yet be believed in with His own οἰκονομία (economy). The numerical order and distribution of the Trinity they assume to be a division of the Unity; whereas the Unity which derives the Trinity out of its own self is so far from being destroyed, that it is actually supported by it. They are constantly throwing out against us that we are preachers of two gods and three gods, while they take to themselves pre-eminently the credit of being worshippers of the One God; just as if the Unity itself with irrational deductions did not produce heresy, and the Trinity rationally considered constitute the truth. … but for all that, this monarchy does not, because it is the government of one, preclude him whose government it is, either from having a son, or from having made himself actually a son to himself, or from ministering his own monarchy by whatever agents he will. Nay more, I contend that no dominion so belongs to one only, as his own, or is in such a sense singular, or is in such a sense a monarchy, as not also to be administered through other persons most closely connected with it, and whom it has itself provided as officials to itself. If, moreover, there be a son belonging to him whose monarchy it is, it does not forthwith become divided and cease to be a monarchy, if the son also be taken as a sharer in it; but it is as to its origin equally his, by whom it is communicated to the son; and being his, it is quite as much a monarchy (or sole empire), since it is held together by two who are so inseparable. Therefore, inasmuch as the Divine Monarchy also is administered by so many legions and hosts of angels, according as it is written, “Thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him;” and since it has not from this circumstance ceased to be the rule of one (so as no longer to be a monarchy), because it is administered by so many thousands of powers; how comes it to pass that God should be thought to suffer division and severance in the Son and in the Holy Ghost, who have the second and the third places assigned to them, and who are so closely joined with the Father in His substance, when He suffers no such (division and severance) in the multitude of so many angels? Do you really suppose that Those, who are naturally members of the Father’s own substance, pledges of His love, instruments of His might, nay, His power itself and the entire system of His monarchy, are the overthrow and destruction thereof? You are not right in so thinking. I prefer your exercising yourself on the meaning of the thing rather than on the sound of the word.” Tertullian “Against Praxeas” Ch 3 216 A.D.
He goes on to say what conditions would be polytheism.
“Now you must understand the overthrow of a monarchy to be this, when another dominion, which has a framework and a state peculiar to itself (and is therefore a rival), is brought in over and above it: when, e.g., some other god is introduced in opposition to the Creator, as in the opinions of Marcion; or when many gods are introduced, according to your Valentinuses and your Prodicuses. Then it amounts to an overthrow of the Monarchy, since it involves the destruction of the Creator” Tertullian “Against Praxeas” Ch 3 216 A.D.
Origen addresses the confusion with Jesus being called “the Word” and how some apparently thought He was literally spoken out of the mouth of God. He shows all the other examples of Jesus being compared to other natural things and makes the argument that the term “word” should be taken figuratively as well.
Chapter 23. The Title “Word” Is to Be Interpreted by the Same Method as the Other Titles of Christ. The Word of God is Not a Mere Attribute of God, But a Separate Person. What is Meant When He is Called the Word. … I wonder at the stupidity of the general run of Christians in this matter. I do not mince matters; it is nothing but stupidity. The Son of God says in one passage, “I am the light of the world,” and in another, “I am the resurrection … The passage they employ most is that in the Psalms, “My heart hath produced a good Word;” and they imagine the Son of God to be the utterance of the Father deposited, as it were, in syllables, and accordingly they do not allow Him, if we examine them farther, any independent hypostasis (person), nor are they clear about His essence. I do not mean that they confuse its qualities, but the fact of His having an essence of His own. For no one can understand how that which is said to be “Word” can be a Son. And such an animated Word, not being a separate entity from the Father, and accordingly as it, having no subsistence. is not a Son, or if he is a Son, let them say that God the Word is a separate being and has an essence of His own. We insist, therefore, that as in the case of each of the titles spoken of above we turn from the title to the concept it suggests and apply it and demonstrate how the Son of God is suitably described by it, the same course must be followed when we find Him called the Word. (Origen c228, 9.308-310. Pg 696 of “A dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs”)
Both Origen and Tertullian mention that the majority of believers around them at that time had confusion with all this. So Modalists will speculate (based on this alone I believe) that it was only these church leaders, whom they suggest were too sheltered or something, that believed these Trinitarian type things and the masses believed in modalism. We know Origen and Tertullian were writing to specific people who strongly taught modalistic heresies but we’re not sure exactly what the masses believed that they’re referring to here. The masses might have just disagreed with the early use of some of the more advanced Trinity terms (like hypostasis). Anyway, it’s not very common for people to defend a doctrine based on the masses believing it, especially 200 years after Christ. It should also be noted that this is only mentioned in this specific time period from 220-240 A.D. The quotes very early in the early 100’s from Ignatius and Polycarp, who were disciples of John, and all the other early writers like Justin Martyr, speak naturally and strongly in Trinitarian terms. And the most important thing is that they just agree with what the Bible says as I’ve been showing. We know from history that they, like the Apostles writing in the Bible, were making sure to clarify the true divinity of Jesus from the earliest known modalistic heresy, Gnosticism.
Cyprian wrote of Modalism: “How, when God the Father is not known–nay, is even blasphemed–can they who among the heretics are said to be baptized in the name of Christ only, be judged to have obtained the remission of sins?” (Cyprian, c. 250, “letters of Cyprian”)
In about 256 A.D. Novatian wrote “On the Trinity” expressing views against the modalistic views that Sabellius had. I won’t quote it all but Chapters 11 and 31 are said to be particularly clear discussions on the Trinity. You’ll find mentions of heresy with his name but it seems to be a false accusation, and it wasn’t regarding the Trinity. Another belief he held was that Christians who sacrificed to pagan Roman gods could not be readmitted to the church and he had a serious confrontation with “Pope” Fabian over the issue. Fabian seemed to be in league with Rome because Novatian was eventually excommunicated and martyred by Roman Emperor Valerian I.
Quotes on “Nicaean” Trinitarianism.
Around the late 200’s this debate did become a debate among intellectuals and actually became political with Emperors, councils and banishments. This is criticized by the modalists. However the Modalist side was equally involved in this political battle. There were political battles back and forth. This is also when I start to see what I call the “Nicaean” Trinitarianism terms of Jesus being called God and talk of equality of power and substance and other advanced terminology.
Gregory Thaumaturgus (265 A.D. ca. 213 – ca. 270 AD) wrote a detailed work on the Trinity that was later used by the Orthodox Church. He has his own holiday. Supposedly he had a dream where this about the Trinity was told to him.
Dionysius (c. 200-265) wrote “Those baptized in the name of three persons…though baptized by heretics..shall not be rebaptized. But those converted from other heresies shall be perfected by the baptism of the Holy Church.” (St. Dionysius, Letters and Treatises, p.54).
“Sabellius…blasphemes in saying that the Son Himself is the Father and vice versa.” (St. Dionysius, Against Sabellians, c.264,W, 6.365)
Lactantius (285 A.D., c. 250-325 AD) in his Divine Institutes, Book IV, ch 29, describes God the Father and God the Son as two persons who are one God and one substance and inseparable. He also said the Father cannot exist without the Son and the Son cannot be separated from the Father.
Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. declared that the Father and Son are one substance (ousia) and three co-equal persons (hypostaseis) and developed the Nicene Creed.
Then the First Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.) added the Holy Spirit to the and created the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and completed the development of the Trinity as we know it.
Summary of early church fathers
It seems to me that the earliest of the writings on the Trinity were just like the Bible. What I would call early Trinitarianism. Many theologians seem to also see this difference. Here are some terms and quotes they use for this early Trinity
The early Christian belief about the Trinity was unsophisticated, ‘naive’, and developed over time towards a true understanding of the Trinity J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines 5th edn (London: A&C Black, 1977), p. 87-88,90
“‘Incipient Trinitarianism” M. Turner and G. McFarlane, ‘Trinity’ in I. H. Marshall (ed.), et al., New Bible Dictionary (3rd edn), electronic edition
“proto-Trinitarian, partially Trinitarian” Dale Tuggy, The Lost Early History of Unitarian Christian Theology, paper delivered at CoGGC Theological Conference, Atlanta [May, 2013], 4:43-56
However, in spite of all this there are so many people writing on the Trinity that you can find some who say the early church believed in Monarchianism but I have not found a source that explains why except quotes condemning those small groups who did believe in Monarchianism. Then of course there is the speculation from the vague quotes from Origen and Tertullian in a 20 year span, which I discussed earlier. It never seemed to be widespread or accepted by church leadership. Still all this is just for reference since the Bible is the only real authority.
4) Menno Simons.
Menno Simmons felt strongly in the Trinity idea though he didn’t like to use the term itself because it wasn’t in the Bible. In 1550 A.D. he wrote a small book on the subject, “Confession of the Triune God.” He writes in a simple Biblical manner without the advanced Nicaean Trinity terms.
“Dearly beloved brethren, understand me rightly. Christ is the eternal wisdom, the eternal power of God For just as we believe and confess that the Father was from eternity and will be to eternity, yea He is the First and the Last, so we may certainly also fully believe and confess, that His wisdom, His power, His light, His truth. His life, His word, Christ Jesus, has been eternally with Him, in Him and by Him, yea that He is the Alpha and Omega. Or else, we should be compelled to admit that this only begotten incomprehensible, truly divine Being, Christ Jesus (whom the church fathers have called a person), through whom the eternal Father has made all things, has had a creature-like beginning, an opinion which certainly all true Christians confess and consider a terrible blasphemy, a curse and abomination. May the gracious beloved Father ever protect and uphold all His beloved child[r]en in the right and true confession of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.” (Confession of the Triune God).
As a side note, some wonder about the Holy Spirit and if He is just a spirit of God or a third person of the Trinity. Both Menno Simons and Dirk Philips also speak of the Holy Spirit as a personal Being. Menno says: “The Holy Spirit we believe and confess to be a true, real or, as the church fathers speak of Him, a personal Holy Spirit,” etc. (390a; II:186b). And Dirk Philips writes in his book “The Church of God”: “The Holy Ghost is the third name, person, power and operation of the Godhead, of one divine substance with the Father and the Son.”
Good source for Menno’s works: http://www.mennosimons.net
Because this deals with the nature of Christ and God, some are quick to call modalism heresy. I don’t think it is but I’m not sure. Under God’s wise provision, the Apostle John wrote very specific instructions of who to disassociate with. It was people who denied that Jesus came in the flesh. And we can see from church history that John was confronting an early form of Gnosticism, not modalism. According to the NIV Study Bible, Gnosticism’s central teaching was that spirit is entirely good and matter is entirely evil. This led to several strange teachings. A few of which are:
- Salvation is the escape from the body by special knowledge (the Greek word for “knowledge” is gnosis, therefor Gnosticism).
- Christ’s true humanity was denied by two ways: Docetism, that Christ only seemed to have a body, or Cerinthianism, where the divine Christ joined the man Jesus at baptism and left him before he died, This view is the background of 1 John 1:1; 2:22; 4:2-3.
- Since the body was considered evil, it was to be treated harshly. Paul refers to it in Colossians (2:21-23).
- It actually led to immorality since the body was evil and unrelated to the Spirit.
So you can see the reason for John’s emphasis on Christ coming in the flesh, as is evident in his works:
2 John 7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. 9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. 10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: 11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
1 John 2:22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. [If God and Jesus are separate members, then claiming they are one does deny one of them. This is scary.]
1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
The book of John was also protecting the deity of Christ.
1 John 5 Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. 5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.
Modalists believe that Jesus came in the flesh and that He was the Christ and the Son of God so I don’t believe modalism would be heresy. However they don’t believe in the Father and the Son as John writes. If John meant you are supposed to believe in both separately they’re in trouble. So it’s certainly dangerous and I’m not for sure it isn’t displeasing to God and people who believe this might not have the power they could. But I don’t think God would condemn anyone who is sincerely mislead by some of the confusing verses.
Paul gave clear directions of who to disassociate with.
1 Cor 5:11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
So I don’t think these verses apply to modalists but it is concerning and I would like to see them consider the nice simple teaching of the early Trinity which is easy to support with the Bible.
My overall observation is that some very sincere people have observed troubling appearances of polytheism with the normal teaching on the Trinity and so they have latched on to a handful of obscure verses to come up with the idea of modalism. But I have also observed that they have had to use a staggering amount of reinterpreting and adding new thoughts to a vast amount of scriptures to maintain it. I think they would find it much easier to just consider the early teaching of the Trinity, where there is a one person God (just like they believe), but that He has a divine Son.