Trinitarianism vs. Modalism – Pt 6, A bit on Hebrews

We are continuing our response to Mr. Davis’s article found here. It has taken me over a week or so to finally answer him in every point, not for want of an answer, but because life has been pretty busy lately. So, dear and loyal reader (hoping to making it readerS soon!), let us continue.

What I try to realize is that with each who approaches the Scriptures, they carry with them certain traditions and preconceived theological notions. This shades our viewpoint and may prevent us from seeing the truth; this is why I try to reach below the translation to the original language and try to bring in the context of the passage from the author’s point of view as well as how the audience would have understood it. I am not liberal to say that context changes with every age. Granted, it would be very difficult, at best, to place ourselves in the minds of the holy writers, but we can come close by putting on the same mind of Christ.

We know that their are certain cornerstone issues that people of faith deal with, and one of them, at least among those that claim Christianity, is the nature of the Godhead. When Mr. Davis first posted his treatise, I felt compelled to issue short, pithy comments but soon realized that much more could be accomplished if I took the time to answer him. For me, I have discovered more of a sure foundation for Modalism, and as I told my wife, Mr. Davis has made sure that I spent more time studying Greek Philosophy. It has also helped me to develop a better understanding of at least traditional Reformed Trinitarian theology. Being here in the United States, with our own theological problems, one tends to forget that uneducated speakers rarely present their doctrine correctly.

(I want to take this time out to point out this article, which may or may not be discussed later on)

So, let’s turn to the second verse in Hebrews, chapter 1, which reads:

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; – KJV

in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. – NET

(The KJV translates διά as ‘by’ while all modern translations use ‘through’.)

In Genesis we read that God created the world, or all of created reality, and He did this by speaking through His logos. I contend that if you have a proper understanding of who the Son is (that he is the very Word of God – that is, God in action) then these things begin to line up appropriately. The logos is the channel that brought the worlds into existence, still yet is no separation. We know from the Torah and the prophets, from the Gospel of Mark and from Paul, that God created all of creation, but He did it by His Word.

Let me draw your attention also between διά and ἐν. The difference is striking and worth noting. God spoke to us in a son, through whom God created the worlds. The Son here is not given agency, but is made the agent of revelation (speaking) and of creation. We know from that the word is inseparable from the Speaker, or else Christ would have been a prophet (which is something that the author of Hebrews goes on to correct), or just a vessel of operation.

We have to notice that the Greek here (ἐν υἱῷ) is absent of any title, implying not the title, but the class. In verse one, it is the prophets that spoke for God and now, under the new covenant, God speaks through a son, speaks by himself.

We know from John 16:15 that all things of the Father’s is the Sons. Here the writer is confirming that, and how can that be? How can all power in heaven and earth be given to the Son, and the Son be the inheritor of all things (especially since the process of inheriting something, usually implies that the owner has passed)? Unless they are the same being, and inseparable and indistinguishable? Christ is the final revelation and thus the inheritor of all things.

In Hebrews 1:6 we read,

And when he again bringeth in the firstborn into the world he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. – ASV

First, what I do notice is that Mr. Davis fails to comment on the obvious creation of the Son by the Father. This is permissible as a Modalists because we understand that Christ was indeed preexistent, but the Son (humanity) was not and did not exist until the Incarnation. He also failed to address ‘again’ which can point to the second coming quite easily, but he did address the firstborn, or the πρωτοτόκος that Philo applied to the Logos. Just what did this author, however, mean?

It quite plausible that this author used Philo’s concept of prototokos; however, that would be antithetical to John’s monogenes. Instead, the author is using it in light of Psalms 89:27, which states:

Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.

This is God speaking to the Psalmist, who was already born and the last of many brothers, but indicating that He would separate the Psalmist and make him higher (set apart) than all the kings of the earth. What has to be understood is the uniqueness of the Son when prototokos is used. It is used to describe His preeminence. I have found several references to the Rabbinical writers employing this term in relation to God, but cannot find the supporting evidence.

How does Modalism understand this? The Father (mode, not personal name) revealed Himself to Creation not through His prophets or Law, but through a son (no title). Was God separate from the son? No. God was in the Son, revealing Himself to the world. He used the son (flesh) as the revealer, just as His Word (logos) created the worlds, but yet, we do not see separate beings, or even distinctions in beings, but understand the mode of manifestations and the channel of God’s actions.

Quickly on v8. Although Jesus was human, Christ was divine. To call Jesus Christ God, as Thomas did, is not wrong. Here the author affirms the Godhead of Christ, something that in later chapters the audience seems close to disbelieving.

In Hebrews 7:3,

Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.

Mr. Davis tries to make the comparison that exists between Melchizedek and the Son to concern eternity. This is a weak interpretation. Mr. Davis says,

Here Melchizedek is compared with the Son in that he almost appears to be eternal. Melchizedek of course isn’t, but the Son clearly is from this passage.

The main point of this verse, and it should be taken in the larger context, is the last clause. Like Melchizedek and unlike the Aaronic priesthood, Christ will remain a priest forever, but the author goes on to teach the superiority of Christ to Melchizedek.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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