Oneness Questions About the Trinity



Someone wrote to me, “You are obviously Trinitarian and that’s great because I have a lot of questions that can only be answered by a Trinitarian.  If you would take the time to respond, I would certainly appreciate it.  If not, that’s okay too; I don’t wish to take up an undue amount of your time . . . I have always been raised Oneness and to be honest with you, the idea of three gods makes little sense to me. However, I believe it’s good to be open to other points of view. Obviously, I have little contact with educated Trinitarians, so I was glad to see you are one since I’ve held those questions a long time. Thanks for your time!”

This was my response:

Thank you for writing me with your questions; I’ll do my best to answer them.  Inasmuch as you are an Oneness Pentecostal, I’ll quote from the King James Version.

1) You asked:  “How many deities or figures or gods or whatever do you think we will see in heaven? One, or two?”

What you have been taught about what Trinitarians believe is actually tritheism (tri, “three,” combined with theos, “god”.), not Trinitarianism.  The Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) believe the Father and the Son are separate gods, but they are polytheists (poly, “many,” combined with theos, “god”.), not Trinitarians. 

Trinitarians believe in only one God, because that is what the Bible teaches, as is stated in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.”

Therefore, we will only see one God in heaven.  How that works out in the vision of heaven that is given in Revelation 4 and 5 is rather interesting:

Revelation 4:2,  “And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.”

Revelation 5:6, “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.”

Revelation 4 and 5 is a vision of God’s throne room, and much is beyond our minds’ ability to grasp, but there is clearly a distinction between the One who sits on the throne, the Lamb and the seven Spirits of God, “sent forth into all the earth.”

This distinction is brought out even more clearly by our Lord in the Upper Room, before he was crucified, especially in John 14:15-27.

“I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, (16) . . . Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (17)  I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. (18)

“At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” (20)

“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.” (23)

“These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.  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.” (25, 26)

What are some of the things that we can learn from John 14:15-27? 

First of all, it is very obvious that more than one person is in view:  there is Jesus, who is the speaker, and then there is the speaker’s Father, who is distinct from Jesus.  Jesus refers to himself and the Father as “WE” in verse 23.  Furthermore, in verse 26, the Lord tells us about yet a third, distinct person, “the Comforter,” which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name.”

Secondly, we discover that each believer is indwelt by each of these three persons.  Not only will Jesus dwell in us, but also he adds, “my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (23) Then he tells us that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, “shall be in you.” (16, 17.) 

But before we look at that more closely, we need to be sure of our terms.  What is a person?  When we speak of persons, we often are referring to human beings.  But God in eternity is not a human being.  Different angels are different persons, just as different humans are different persons, and so are different demons.  Not to be overly simplistic, but personhood is “the composite of characteristics that make up an individual personality.”  We may even say that my dog, Hamilton, is one person, while my wife’s cat, Edgar, is another. 

The above Scriptures make it plain that we are dealing with three distinct persons, and each of these three persons fulfills a distinct function in securing salvation.   We can see this clearly in 1 Peter 1:2, where each of these three persons takes on a different role:  “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”  These Scriptures make it plain that it is not one person fulfilling different roles and relationships the way, say, my wife does:  she is a daughter to her father, a wife to me, a mother to our children and a grandmother to our grandchildren.  But this is not the case with what we read about in the New Testament; there each of the three persons plays a distinct role, and we do not have Modalism, with one person playing three different roles, as in the old Peter Sellers’ film, “The Mouse that Roared,” where the late Mr. Sellers played most of the major characters. 

While trick photography can give the illusion of one actor playing two or more roles at once, real life does not.  In real life, water can be three different forms:  ice, a solid; water, a liquid; or steam, a vapor.  But the same molecule of water cannot exist in these three modes at one and the same time.  In real life, at the same moment when Jesus was baptized on earth, his Father spoke from heaven, and the Spirit of God came down. (Matthew 3:16, 17.) 

The Lord Jesus spoke of himself not only as one with the Father (John 10:30), but also as different from him—even saying, “the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28.)  As we compare the different role of the Son from the Father, the Son takes the inferior role, the role of the Servant of the Father; the Son becomes the Suffering Servant who does the will of God even unto death. (Cf. Philippians 2:5-11.)  And Jesus purchases the Holy Spirit, whom he pours out on the Church. (Acts 2:33.) 

The difficulty comes when we discover that each of these three persons is God. 

First of all, the New Testament clearly speaks of the Father as God; take, for example John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.”

Also, it is clear that the Holy Ghost is not only God, he is more than a force—inanimate objects cannot feel pain, but the Holy Spirit can be “grieved.” (Ephesians 4:30.)  He has intelligence and a distinct personality; his distinct personality is to bring honor to the Son of God:  “He shall glorify me.” (John 16:14.)  As we read above in John 14:26, “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost . . . shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”  In Acts 5:3, 4, he is lied to and called God:  “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost . . . thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”  (By the way, contrary to some teaching, the Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit are identical and refer to the same person.  For some reason, the translators of the King James Version translated the same Greek word, pneuma, sometimes as “ghost” and sometimes as “spirit.”)

The most difficult of these three persons to comprehend is the Lord Jesus, because in him we are confronted with someone who is both like us and yet altogether different.  Jesus of Nazareth is presented to us as a truly human person who had emotions and intelligence similar to ours. He felt pain and loneliness just as we do. And even though he never sinned, he wrestled with the same kinds of temptations we all face: pride, self-pity, fear, doubt, dishonesty, hate and the misuse of his human sexuality. (Hebrews 4:15.)  When a close friend of his died, he “he groaned in the spirit and was troubled;” he wept. (John 11:33, 35.) He knew fatigue, hunger and thirst.  (John 4:6; Matthew 4:2.)  He even confessed ignorance regarding the time of the end of the world, saying that only his Father knew when that would happen. (Matthew 24:36.)

At the same time the New Testament presents this person, Jesus, as someone altogether different from other people. He is called God (John 1:1-3; 20:28.) and identified as Yahweh, the God of Israel. (Hebrews 1:10-12 with Psalm 102.)  He declared, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58.)  His religious contemporaries understood the implication of what he said—in effect “making himself equal to God”—and “so they picked up stones to throw at him.” (John 5:18; 8:59.)

So, as I said above, the difficulty comes when we discover that each of these three persons is God—not three gods, as in tritheism—but God, the one true God.  “I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me . . . I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:5-7.)

What do we do with the biblical data?  Do we emphasize the three-ness of God at the expense of the oneness, as do tritheists?  Or, do we emphasize the oneness of God at the expense of the three-ness, as do the Unitarians (many of whom reject the deity of the Lord Jesus and view him as a mere human being.)?  Or, do we say that God is both one and three in the exactly the same way, which is a logical contradiction?  I submit that we confess what Christians confessed long before the time of the Roman emperor Constantine:  There is only one God, and he eternally exists in three persons.

2) You asked:  “If Jesus told us to do everything in His name, then why wouldn’t we baptize in His name as well?”

Jesus never told us to baptize in his name; he told us:  “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.)

Furthermore, as I point out in the article that you read, “Jesus” is not the name of the Father or the Holy Spirit.  God’s name is Yahweh, and when we speak of Yahweh, we are speaking of the one God who eternally exists in three persons.  Jesus is the name that the Son of God was given when he became a human being.  It is called the Father’s name, simply because it is the Father who gave him that name.  I have my mother’s name, because she named me “Robert.”  As I point out in that article, the name “Jesus” and the name “Joshua” are identical in both Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek; it was a very common name for Jewish boys, because it uses God’s proper name and combines it with the Hebrew word for salvation:  “Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21.)

So when Jesus explicitly commanded us to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he was not commanding us to baptize in the name of Jesus.

3) You asked:  “Why would Peter say to baptize in the name of Jesus if it were okay the other way too?”

That is a great question, and it takes us back to the nature of the Bible itself as well as some basic differences in the Old and New Testaments.

The Bible didn’t come to us the way that Mohammed claims he received the Quran, out of the blue, without human involvement.  As the Lord Jesus is both fully God and fully human in his one person, so the Bible is both fully God’s word and yet also a fully human document, too.  This does not take away from the Bible’s being infallible, because just as Jesus is without sin, so the Bible is without error.  Therefore, the Bible is a divine instruction book, but it is more than that:  it is the Holy Spirit’s, infallibly guided, human interpretation of God’s mighty acts.  As such, it unfolds in a specific historical context, and its revelation is progressive:  we gain more and more insight into the nature of God and his dealings with us as the history of redemption unfolds.

Furthermore, while people are saved the same way in the New Testament as they were in the Old, God administered these two Testaments differently.  That is especially true with regard to the different rituals that are laid out in the two Testaments.  Things simply are not as spelled out in the New as they are in the Old.

Under the Law, everything that is to be done in worship is given in the minutest detail, and no variation was tolerated. Blood was to be sprinkled seven times, not six or eight, on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant on the Day of Atonement. The first time it must be blood from a bull, then blood from a goat. Even the kind of underwear that is to be worn in worship is explicitly commanded. (Leviticus 16:4.) The whole structure of Tabernacle, and later Temple worship is to impress people with the enormous barrier between them and God.

When the Lord Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom, thereby removing the barrier between sinful humanity and a holy God. (Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 6:19, 20.) The ancient and fearful rites, which if performed incorrectly brought death (Leviticus 10:1 ff.; 2 Samuel 6:6 ff.), now pass into a new form, one marked by life and freedom. So it is, when we come to descriptions of New Testament worship, we find the covenant community experiencing freedom and spontaneity under the leadership of the Holy Spirit within the structure of biblical revelation. The Bible gives the structure and is normative, but the details are not so delineated. Very different from the Old Testament’s rigid structure of worship is the picture one gets about New Testament worship from reading passages such as Acts 20:7 ff. or 1 Corinthians 14:26 ff. This is why God’s standard for worship works out very differently in the two Testaments.

In the Holy Spirit guided evolution of doctrinal emphases, the prophets stress the importance of the heart, not external ceremonies: “rend your heart, and not your garments.” (Joel 2:13.) That emphasis is given full voice in the preaching of the Lord Jesus: “the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” (John 4:23.) His apostles echo it: “we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:3.)

This emphasis on the heart and freedom within biblical structure can be seen with regard to such things as the words that are used with the sealing ceremonies of the New Testament. For example, as we lift the cup, should we say, “This cup is the new testament in my blood,” as Paul and Luke have it? (1 Corinthians 11:25; Luke 22:20.)  Or, should we follow Matthew and Mark and say, “This is my blood of the new testament”? (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24. If we get the formulae wrong, will we turn the bread into mouse flesh or the wine into urine?  Such ridiculous thoughts are more fitting for medieval folk, rather than for serious students of the New Testament message. 

The important thing always is God’s act, not man’s. It is what God does in baptism, not my superstitious conformity to a religious group’s view of ceremonial purity. It isn’t how I am baptized but that I am baptized that is important. And always it is a matter of the intention of the heart.  

Since people sometimes dropped dead from a misuse of the Lord’s Supper, (1 Corinthians 11:30.) and we never read about such a thing happening in baptism.  Surely God is not less concerned with the words we use in the one ordinance than he is in the other.  So, just as people didn’t use exactly the same language when they observed the Lord’s Supper, neither did they use exactly the same language when they baptized people.

It is for that reason when we come to the descriptions of New Testament baptism we do not find a clear and uniform picture of how it was done. Sometimes it is by pouring and sometimes by immersion. (Acts 1:5; 2:33; Romans 6:3-5.) Sometimes it is in the name of Christ, other times in Christ Jesus, or the Lord Jesus. (Acts 2:38; 8:16; Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27.) And, of course, we have the Lord Jesus’ explicit command in Matthew 28:19 to baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

4) You asked:  “Where, in the Bible, was anyone ever physically baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost as Jesus instructed us to do in Matthew 28:19?”

I have essentially answered this above.  No one who has really studied the issue in the New Testament could ever assert that to baptize people in the name of Jesus is the same as baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Father, Son and Holy Ghost are not titles of Jesus, nor are they modes of Jesus’ existence or roles that he takes on in obtaining salvation.  “Joshua,” or “Jesus,” is the name the Father gave the Son, when the Son became a human being; it is not the name of God as such; Yahweh is.

Furthermore, to put it succinctly, the New Testament isn’t focused on strict observance of rituals, especially on the exact use of specific words, as if they were magic formulae.  Its focus is the heart, and we do not get a picture of the various congregations of the New Testament era following an exact liturgy.  Undoubtedly, people were baptized in different ways, at different times and places, as I pointed out above.  In time, especially, as Christianity began to focus more on the world of the gentiles after Acts 11, and especially after Acts 13, the Gospel summons was not so focused on a Jewish audience, confessing Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, but on the gentiles turning to God from their false gods.  By the end of the first century, Matthew’s formula, quoting our Lord’s explicit command became more and more the standard.

I’ll reverse your last two questions.

6) You asked:  “The Jews hold a monotheistic belief, that God is incorporeal and indivisible—what changed from the dispensation of law to the dispensation of grace? Was the Son present in heaven during the Old Testament, and they never knew it? Or was the idea of polytheism birthed when Jesus was born?”

I believe that I have more or less answered this in my response to your first question, but I will add this.  The Old Testament record never paints such a simplistic picture of the oneness and unity of God as you have been mislead to believe.  Some things can be explained by the plural of majesty, as in Genesis 1:26, but other things cannot.  Take, for example, Daniel’s vision:

“I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit . . . I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.  And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. “ (Daniel 7:9, 13, 14.)

The Son of Man is clearly a divine person; that’s why the high priest “rent his clothes” and said that Jesus had spoken “blasphemy” when he confessed:  “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64, 65.)

The three-ness within the oneness of the one, true God is manifested in the Old Testament glimpse into the divine throne room:  “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3.)

The one true God who eternally exists in three persons is manifested in the Old Testament, but he is more fully revealed in the New, and this scene is vividly unveiled in Revelation 4:8:  “And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”  About whom do they continually cry?  The One about whom we read in the whole vision of Revelation 4 and 5:  the One who sits on the throne, the Lamb and the seven Spirits of God, “sent forth into all the earth.” (Seven being the divine number of holiness and completeness.)

Again, considering the progressive nature of biblical revelation, this should not surprise us.  After all, what is sometimes dark and obscure in the Old, such as life after death, (e.g. Job 7:9ff.; 14:14; Psalm 88:5.) is made crystal-clear in the New:  “Jesus Christ . . . hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:10.)

5) You asked:  “If I am incorrect in my Oneness theology, do you think I will be believing a lie and am thus damned?”

As I have demonstrated, you are incorrect in your Oneness theology, and you are believing a lie.  But Christians can fall into sin and still be saved, and Christians can sometimes get confused about even fundamental truths. 

The question you have to face is this.  Will you reject the plain teaching of Scripture because it doesn’t make sense to you, or will you bow your knees before the one, true God who is infinitely greater and more complex than you and I can ever understand?  Will you lie at his feet with the simple faith of a child? (Psalm 131:2.)

Isaiah urges us:

“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:  Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isaiah 55:6-10.)

Will you demand that this big God fit into your logical box?  Will you make God in your image, pulling him down to your level?  That is the original sin of humankind:  to be as God. (Genesis 3:5.)

Won’t you, instead, join cherubim and seraphim and cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, LORD of (heavenly) armies”? 

As Isaiah heard it in his own tongue, (phonetically written):  kawDOSH, kawDOSH, kawDOSH, Yahweh tsawBAWot.

Saying these words correctly in Hebrew isn’t any more important than whether you pronounce the Lord’s name as Jesus, Joshua, YaySHOOah or YehHOshooah.  The question is what the Bible says about this God and whether you will humble yourself before him? 

Will you pray?

“Heavenly Father, I confess that you are bigger than my little mind can ever comprehend.  The Bible teaches that you are somehow one, but it also teaches that you are somehow three, because you are called God, and the Holy Ghost is also called God, as well as the Lord Jesus.  I am confused, and I want to believe what the Bible teaches.  Please give me your Holy Spirit to teach me.  Open my mind to your truth, what you actually teach in the Bible, rather than men’s theories about you.”

Will you confess that God would be completely just to cast you and me and everybody else into hell forever, apart from what Jesus has done for us?  But will you also confess the Lord Jesus, as the Son of God, who without ceasing to be God, became a real human being, just like you and me, except that he never sinned?

Salvation is a free gift; it is by grace, grace alone. (Ephesians 2:8-10.)  And we receive that grace as we turn from our selves and receive the Lord Jesus Christ by faith, by faith alone.  (Romans 3:21-26.)

Will you cast yourself on God’s mercy in Jesus, trusting that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and rose again? 

Will you receive the Lord Jesus as the Father offers him to you in the gospel? 

If I can be of further help to you, please feel free to contact me, either by email or telephone.  My office number is 318.445.7271; my home number is 318.793.5354.

Cordially in Jesus Christ,