Some time ago, I engaged in a discussion concerning Modalism and Trinitarianism. These following articles/posts are a result of that discussion that is on again, off again. I hear tell that it might start again, so in part because of that (and in part because I wanted to collect it all on one page, and in part because I recently discovered how to tag) I am posting this.
I have continued working on this, modifing it, polishing it, and getting it to a point for publication. Below is the introduction. Once completed, I will add the entire file to the blog for download and heavy criticism by my Trinitarian friends, if I have any left… Please bare in mind, that it is not completed.
I have attempted to create an apology for common use by The Church of Jesus Christ in an effort to avoid the use of materials published under any other banner but of the name of the Lord. It is my earnest desire to see The Church of Jesus Christ stand on her own when it comes to defending the historical Faith once for all delivered by the Apostles of Jesus Christ.
I have attempted to use the King James Version of the bible (1769 Oxford), but have found myself needing other versions as well. The most common of these is the New King James Version (NKJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the New English Translation (NET). For the Septuagint I used the NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint). I have found it necessary at times to diverge from the traditional KJV and use others because they may prove the point more thoroughly. Do not be dismayed at this. Doctrine is established in the Original Languages by the original words, not by a mere translation made by human hand. To rely upon only one translation when studying doctrine is to severely limit ourselves and find ourselves in the same pit as Tertullian and other who preferred Latin, and thus changing concepts, to the Greek.
With that said, I used the same Greek text (Byzantine Textual Tradition) for the New Testament that the KJV does as well as the Hebrew Text of the Masoretic Tradition. For the Septuagint, LXX, I used the critical text established for the NETS. I understand that for the lay person, koine Greek is as useful as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and just as foreign, if not more so; however, I have attempted to include enough language tools in the same passage so that the point that I am attempting to make from the Greek is clearly seen and just as understood as if it were in English.
I have attempted, as well, to include in the footnotes the proper documentation as well as other helpful information. Some sections are amalgamated from various sources and therefore it is difficult to site every source, but efforts have been made to do so where required. The one thing that I do not want to be questioned on – not because of some imaginary ivory tower but because a falsehood will quickly dispel even truthful arguments – is scholarship.
It is my prayer not that this becomes the standard apologetic defense for The Church, but that it leads others into many works of defense of the great and Historical Doctrine. It is also my hope that this is the first of many works in developing a full and well versed Systematic Theology for The Church of Jesus Christ.
Introduction and History
And Jehoshaphat said unto the king of Israel, Enquire, I pray thee, at the word of the LORD to day. Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall I go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might enquire of him? And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so…. And the messenger that was gone to call Micaiah spake unto him, saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good. And Micaiah said, As the LORD liveth, what the LORD saith unto me, that will I speak. So he came to the king. And the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And the king said unto him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the LORD? And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace. And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil? And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. 1st Kings 22:1-19 KJV (selected)
This passage illustrates a most important principle: not always is the majority opinion true. Though many may support a theory and that theory may be supported by Tradition, that theory is not necessarily right. In Church History there have been many Micaiahs. They have, for the most part, constituted the minority, but that doesn’t make them heretics.
The Church of Jesus Christ has suffered many setbacks in her history and it has seemed from time to time that Hell has almost prevailed and through persecutions, torments and laws against us she has withstood all, but the worst of those hindrances have been when men went outside of the Word of God and tried to bring in false doctrine. Throughout the Bible, we find great evil occurs when scriptures are either wrestled with, or used impart, to create something new. The Church needs nothing outside of the Bible to substantiate creeds or dogmas. The Holy Scripture, the very God-breathed Word, is all we need. The great injustice of the Second Century and subsequent centuries was that the Church leaders went outside of the Bible for their authority, essentially leaving the Church itself behind. They invoked the decisions of Church Councils, saying they had just as much authority as the Bible and even today, these Councils are considered the only way to approach Scripture. With these Councils and Synods, men met to determine the current view of ‘Apostolic Doctrine’, thus damning heresies started began to creep in. The greatest of these is the Trinitarian Doctrine. This scripturally unsafe doctrine is found only in creeds established by men with almost total disregard for Scripture. Its thoughts were borrowed from paganism. As we know, when one foundation is removed, man is liable to remove other supports, such as baptism, holiness, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
When man looks to man, his end is confusion. The Trinitarian doctrine was formulated by men and thus we see the present denominational world in a steady state of confusion concerning doctrines, traditions, and conversions. The people are rarely firmly rooted in their tradition, but confused as to doctrinal boundaries. The entire denominational world is crumbling into a pool of waste.
Since the final formulation of the Trinitarian dogma in 381 the Catholic Church has persecuted and condemned any who would question it. It matters not that their dogma came from man and was recognized as something foreign to Scripture, Rome pretends to be the representatives of God. The Vatican claimed authority to condemn people for simply rejecting their human dogma, and in making the denial of the Trinitarian dogma a capital offense, they revealed their hearts and their master. The New Testament never gives license to kill. Neither does it sanction torture. The Early Church knew nothing but persecution, but sometime after the Third Century the tables turned and the Catholic Church began persecution in the name of the Lord, forcing true believers underground while declaring them heretics. They issued polemics against them, and removed them from Church office. They literally attempted to write them out of the history books.
And those who wrote the books, as well as those who write the books now, either label us falsely or attempt to fallaciously portray our doctrine.
It is difficult to escape terms that we have placed erroneously on ourselves or have had placed on us. I fully recognize that the term ‘oneness’ cannot be found in the Bible, in any language in any honest translation. I will accept the term ‘Modalist’, only so far as it is recognized that this too is a man made concept, and one imposed on us by ancient Trinitarians. Granted, ‘oneness’ seems to be a much more Biblical term than ‘Trinity’, but if I am going to criticize the Trinitarians based on the fact that ‘trinity is not found in the Bible’, then we should be honest and recognize that neither is ‘oneness’. I prefer ‘people of the one God’, or’ monotheists’, or even Unitarians (however that term has taken on a negative con notation due to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unitarian-Universalists, but Trinitarians will claim that as well (although I believe for a majority of them, this is made in error). Unless absolutely necessary, I will try to avoid placing Modalism in opposition to Trinitarianism. Although they are opposed one to another, to define doctrine in opposition to another doctrine does justice to neither, and creates a reality that the other doctrine has merit as well at the situation that develops whereby we use the terms of the opposing doctrine and assign them our own definitions.
For our attempt to build a systematic theology of the One God, I would like to begin by recognizing areas of agreement and disagreements between the Trinitarians and Oneness believers. In doing so, I hope to demonstrate that our differences are not merely over semantics, but over concepts. For example, a concept that is foreign to the Modalist view of God is the theory of the ‘unified’ Godhead. For most Modalists the term ‘unified’ still carries within itself the idea that a separation or distinction exists. Here, we must cast doubt on the notion that distinction does not mean separation. According to Webster’s Dictionary, distinct means (1)’separate in place; not conjunct; not united by growth or otherwise;’, and (2) ‘so separated as not to be confounded with any other thing; not liable to be misunderstood; not confused; well-defined; clear; as, we have a distinct or indistinct view of a prospect.’ To the lay person, a distinction in the Godhead more than alludes to a separation but calls for an outright separation. We have to remember that in the bible, the διαστολή, which means ‘distinction’, is only applied to musical notes and to the believers, and never to God (1st Co 14.7). In the former, there is a distinction among the musical notes; in the latter, there is no difference, distinction, or separation in the believers (Jews or Greeks).
Both Oneness and Trinitarian theologians agree that the Bible teaches the existence of only ‘one’ God; both agree that the New Testament sees a difference between the Father and the Son; both views maintain that the Scripture speaks of Father and the Son as God. The question remains: to what level is there a distinction, if any, which exists in the Godhead? I believe that there is no distinction, or separation, in person; however, there remains a difference in manifestations, or spheres of operation, and that difference is temporary, caused by nature and condition.
Oneness and Trinitarian theology both attempt to answer certain questions concerning God, but we do so from different starting points, and end up with two different conclusions. I start with the clear and historically recognized teaching of the Old Testament and the Jews that God is one, and like the Apostles I seek to know Christ and interpret His gospel in light of His words while understanding the different New Testament manifestations between Father and Son in light of the foundation the Law and the Prophets. Trinitarians start with the terms ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ and attempt to justify the OT assertions that God is one in light of these, often relying upon one another’s interpretations. The result is that Oneness theologians usually understand the temporary differences as arising in the incarnation, while Trinitarians understand the differences as absolute eternal distinctions of divine persons in the Godhead both prior to, and after the incarnation. Further, while some Modalists see the Spirit as being the divine power, Trinitarians see the Spirit as being a third person co-equal with the Father and the Son. Throughout the New Testament, Christ and His apostles interpret the current events in light of the Old Testament; however we see no fundamental change in the understanding of what was being interpreted. We must not deviate from that example.
Many assume that the oneness doctrine is new, existing only shortly after the Azusa Street Revival in 1916, but in reality, Modalism goes back to the patristic Church, and past them, even to the Apostles themselves (as it would be natural to do so). To the victor go the spoils, so for Praxeas, Sabellius, and Noetus, we have nothing but the interpretation of their doctrines, perhaps even mischaracterizations, and the guile bestowed upon them by their opponents.
Praxeas explained that while Christ was the Father incarnate, Jesus died only in His humanity as the Son. Sabellius attempted to answer the charge of Patripassianism in a similar way. Noetus, according to his opponent Hippolytus, said, “When indeed, then, the Father had not been born, He yet was justly styled Father; and when it pleased Him to undergo generation, having been begotten, He Himself became His own Son, not another’s.” Hippolytus comments on Noetus saying, “For in this manner he thinks to establish the sovereignty of God, alleging that Father and Son, so called, are one and the same (substance), not one individual produced from a different one, but Himself from Himself; and that He is styled by name Father and Son, according to vicissitude of times. But that He is one who has appeared amongst us, both having submitted to generation from a virgin, and as a man having held converse among men. And, on account of the birth that had taken place, He confessed Himself to those beholding Him a Son, no doubt; yet He made no secret to those who could comprehend Him of His being a Father. That this person suffered by being fastened to the tree, and that He commended His spirit unto Himself, having died to appearance, and not being (in reality) dead. And He raised Himself up the third day, after having been interred in a sepulcher, and wounded with a spear, and perforated with nails. “ Noetus, although presumably a disciple of Praxeas, is derided by Hippolytus as being a disciple of Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher some 600 years before Christ (although Justin Martyr calls this long dead philosopher a Christian), who promoted an idea akin to pantheism. Nothing of the writings of Noetus, Praxeas or Sabelliusremains, only the words of their detractors.
The same Hippolytus who said, “The one God, the first and only, both Creator and Lord of all things, had nothing co-eternal. . . . No, he was one, to himself alone. And when he so willed, he created those things which before had no existence other than in his willing to make them and inasmuch as he had knowledge of what would be, for he also has foreknowledge”, is the one that the Trinitarians who promote co-eternal pre-existence promote as a great defender of the Faith. Hippolytus’ attacks were not limited to Modalists, but also to Quartodecimans and Montanists. (Polycarp, saying that he received his doctrine from the Apostle John, was a Quartodeciman and Tertullian became a Montanist.)
Tertullian, the founder of Latin theology, is widely quoted as saying, “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….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 worshipers of the One God.” In his discussion of the Trinity, Tertullian acknowledged that the majority of believers did not accept the Trinity. Calling them simple, Tertullian failed to follow Paul’s directive of ‘not going beyond what is written’ and found himself ‘puffed up’. Tertullian goes on further to say that it was Praxeas that brought Modalism to Asia. What must be noted as well, are the many times this Latin father spoke of the Father and the Son as two separate beings.
Praxeas, Sabellius, and Noetus seemed to preach what some hold today as Modalism, although they might not recognize the term. They preached that the Father incarnated His Word as Himself from Himself, or God speaking Himself. They preached that it was the Son that died, or rather the human nature, while also preaching subordination of the Son to the Father, and a temporary, albeit only by nature and condition, distinction.
Contrary to what Tertullian assumed, Oneness theology does not believe that the Son is the Father, but rather that the Father is in the Son and that when you see the Son you see the Father. As Commodian, and ancient Christian Latin poet, said, “The Father went into the Son, one God everywhere.” Sabellius explained that the Logos was not the Son but was clothed by the Son, referring to the Son as the temporary human nature. Although Modalism holds to the passability of God (in opposition to one of the philosophical errors that gave rise to the Trinity, that of the impassibility of God); however, we fully recognize that the Father cannot die in any physical sense but can be affected by or that he participates in the suffering of the Son (the flesh). During the schism created by Hippolytus, Bishop Zephyrinus of Rome said, “I know only one God, Jesus Christ, and apart from Him no other who was born or could suffer… It was not the Father who died but the Son.” (There are minor variations in the quote, but the sense is still the same.)
We have a historical tradition of a firm doctrine of what the world calls Modalism which conflicts with Trinitarianism which simply has a history of development. We also have seen that the greatest Trinitarian theologians, those giving the most to the development of said doctrine, have been found to themselves to be separated against the Church. Be it Hippolytus or Tertullian, both men were members of sects that were later declared heretical by Rome, yet their theology is retained.
Trinitarians point to the ‘one in substance’ argument, but that is a human notion that is troubling on more than one front. What substance? Would not the feeble human analogy of triplets being of one substance yet distinct be accurate? If you have a set of identical triplets, they are literally of the same substance, and distinct. Applying this picture to the Trinitarians view, they would have us believe that the triplets are one person. Yet, distinction clearly means separation. Do we see a separation at all in the Godhead? We know that Father was assigned a person in scripture, but neither the Son nor Spirit was. If the substance is the Father’s as is the Person, and if the Son and Spirit have neither Substance nor Person, then Son and Spirit must originate from the Father.
The Cathecism of the Catholic Church admits the Church (not the Bible) had to come up with terms of “philosophical” (pagan) origin to explain it: (251) In order to articulate the dogma of the Trinity, the Church had to develop its own terminology with the help of certain notions of philosophical origin: “substance,” “person,” or “hypostasis,” “relation” and so on (Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995, p. 74). So, not only is the word unbiblical, but the concepts that have greated the word and theology as well.
In Scripture there is as yet no single term by which the Three Divine Persons are denoted together…The word trias (of which the Latin trinitas is a translation) is first found in Theophilus of Antioch about A.D. 180 (We will read some of Theophilus writings and allow the reader to examine the usage). Afterwards it appears in its Latin form of trinitas in Tertullian (“De pud.” c. xxi) (The Blessed Trinity. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight).
An example being the Atonement. A sacrifice was needed in the OT and the NT. That fundamental requirement was not changed. What changed was the sacrifice itself. From the blood of goats and lambs to that of the Son.
Hippolytus stood uncompromisingly for a real difference between the Son (Logos) and the Father, but so as to represent the Former as a Divine Person almost completely separate from God (Ditheism) and at the same time altogether subordinate to the Father (Subordinationism). – New Advent Catholic Encylcopedia
Hippolytus was Church Elder in Rome, and some say that he was a student of Irenaeus, but that cannot be collaborated. He was a follower of Novatian, who has also divided the Church having set up for himself his own sect and Church. He died c. 236 after being reconciled back to the Church.
Montanism was a sect, very much kin to the modern Charismatic movement. Montanus and his two female attendants, Maximilla and Prisca, were enthusiastic revivalists of the mid-second century. They believed that in Montanus the Paraclete dwelt bodily, and that the heavenly Jerusalem would soon come down at Pepuza in Asia Minor. Their theology is thus largely based on the Johannine writings, which at this time were becoming very popular in Asia, and Gaius of Rome (XXVI) tried to cut the ground from under them by ascribing Gospel and Apocalypse to Cerinthus (Pseudo-Tertullian, 10). The visions and the prophecy of Montanism (which was sometimes called the New Prophecy, XXIII. I) have been thought of as a return to first-century Christianity; but there is little evidence that, except at Corinth, apostolic Christian- ity was ordinarily so effervescent. One of their Oracles (prophecies) reads Montanus: “I am the Father and the Son and the Paraclete.” (Didymus, De trinitate iii. 41. 1.) Assembled in P. de Labriolle, La crise montaniste (1913), 34-105, by Bates College, Lewston (Maine)
‘Most of Tertullian’s writings after 206 exhibit strong Montanistic leanings, although Tertullian was still part of the church. Around 213, Tertullian may have left the church and joined a Montanist group.’ – Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. What should be noted is that all of Tertullian’s Trinitarian writings come from the period of his Montanist membership. According to Williston Walker, in his 1918 History of the Christian Church, ‘The Spirit had been the inspiration of the prophecy of the Old Testament. He guided the New Testament writers. Christian thought at the beginning of the second century the Holy Spirit was differentiated from Christ, but was classed, like Him, with God. This appears in the Trinitarian baptismal formula, which was displacing the older baptism in the name of Christ. Trinitarian formula were frequently in use by the close of the first and beginning of the second century.’
Tertullian seems to suggest that the majority of believers at that time favored the Sabellian view of the oneness of God. Epiphanius (Haeres 62) about 375 AD notes that the adherents of Sabellius were still to be found in great numbers, both in Mesopotamia and at Rome. The second general council at Constantinople in 533 AD declared the baptism of Sabellius to be invalid, which indicates that Sabellianism was still extant.
The Christian common people held firmly, above all, to the Unity of God and at the same time to the true Godhead of Jesus Christ. Originally no distrust of this doctrine was felt among them. Pope Zephyrinus did not interpose authoritatively in the dispute between the two schools. The heresy of the Modalists was not at first clearly evident, and the doctrine of Hippolytus offered many difficulties as regards the tradition of the Church. Zephyrinus said simply that he acknowledged only one God, and this was the Lord Jesus Christ, but it was the Son, not the Father, Who had died. This was the doctrine of the tradition of the Church. Hippolytus urged that the pope should approve of a distinct dogma which represented the Person of Christ as actually different from that of the Father and condemned the opposing views of the Monarchians and Patripassians. However, Zephyrinus would not consent to this.
Jules Lebreton and Jacques Zeiller, Heresy and Orthodoxy, Vol. IV of A History of the Early Church (New York: Collier, 1962), p. 155.– Catholic Encyclopedia (NewAdvent.org)