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 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
“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
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
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
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
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;
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
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,
“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
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
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.”
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
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.
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,