Do Oneness Pentecostals Worship the God of the Bible?
Have you ever met someone who identifies themselves as Christian, yet they reject Trinitarianism outright? Many of these individuals embrace what is known as “Oneness” instead of Trinitarianism. First, I should elucidate what I mean by “Trinity.” To say that God is triune is to say that there are three persons who are unified in the one being of God. God is one and God is three. He is not one in the same way that He is three, so this is not a contradiction. There are two things we need to understand the doctrine of the Trinity.
One God, Three Persons
First, Christians believe the Trinity because the Bible teaches that there is one God and one God only. Passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4, Psalm 96:5 and Isaiah 43:10 teach this truth unapologetically.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
– Deuteronomy 6:4
Secondly, the Bible teaches that there are three distinct persons who share in the one being who is God. Dr. James White does well to define “person” in the biblical sense. According to Dr. White, a distinct person has the “ability to have emotion, will, to express oneself.” Scripture shows that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have the capacity to express themselves.
They each also have a will and the ability to have emotion. Each of the persons of the Trinity is referred to as God (Ephesians 1:2, Romans 9:6, Acts 5:1-4). The Bible emphatically declares that there is one God and there are three distinct persons within that one God. Trinitarianism is not some illogical fabrication of men, but it is purely biblical.
Oneness Theology Defined
In an effort to let the proponents of Oneness define their own position, I listened to Roger Perkins, one of their leading apologists, debate Dr. James White. Perkins argues,
Oneness people understand the New Testament distinctions between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which we readily concede, as arising in the incarnation [of Jesus]. This explains why we never see Father and Son distinctions in the Old Testament.
We see that they deny that Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit were distinct in any way from the Father prior to New Testament events. Keep in mind that Oneness theology is not teaching there are three distinct persons as Trinitarians do, but rather, one divine person working in three distinct roles.
Believers of Oneness theology think Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Spirit, and the Father is the Spirit. Note that Perkins believes these distinctions arose in the incarnation of Christ and not before. Boldly, he also asserts the Old Testament writings do not distinguish between the Father and the Son. This makes sense considering Perkins does not believe God assumed roles as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before events detailed in the New Testament.
Oneness beliefs can be described as a form of Modalism which teaches that God is both one in being and person as opposed to three persons. They believe one person takes on three different forms or modes (Father, Son, or Spirit). In his article, The Son Had His Beginning By His Begetting, Oneness apologist Steven Ritchie makes the two following statements,
Oneness theologians agree that the true identity of the Son is the Spirit of Yahweh [,] God the Creator [,] before the Holy Spirit became incarnate as the human child born and Son given.
Hence, the Father’s own Name (Yahweh) was given to the Son at a specific point in time because the angel gave the Son’s name to Joseph (“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus [Jesus means ‘Yahweh Saves’], for He will save His people from their sins”) Therefore the Holy Spirit of the only true God miraculously became a man at a specific point in time as the child born and son given within the virgin in order to “save His people from their sins.”
What’s the Difference?
Trinitarians believe that in eternity past, God was one being shared by three coequal, coeternal persons. None of the persons ever came into existence, as they have always existed. None of the persons plays the role of any of the other persons. The Father has always been the Father, the Son has always been the Son who obeys the Father (John 5:19), and the Holy Spirit has always been the Holy Spirit who is sent by the Father (John 14:15-17). They all share fully in the one, infinite being that is God. That is why each of them can accurately be called God.
In contrast, Oneness believers do not believe Jesus and the Holy Spirit have always existed. They would say that there is only one person in the infinite being of God (instead of three persons). Oneness advocates would argue that this one person took the form of the Father in the Old Testament, the Son in the New Testament, and the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. Some will contend that He places some of these roles simultaneously. A discussion of these claims will take place below, along with a brief argument for the Trinity.
Old Testament: Allusions to the Trinity
Two of the clearest passages which reveal the Trinity in the Old Testament are Psalm 110:1 and Isaiah 48:16-17. Let’s look at the first verse of Psalm 110:
The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
– Psalm 110:1
In this verse, we have a clear demonstration of “the Lord,” who can only be identified as God in this passage, conversing with another whom David refers to as His personal Lord. The context, which we cannot explore here, grants us every reason to believe the second “Lord” here is God too. As I mentioned before, a distinct person has “emotion, will, [and the ability] to express oneself.” We see that the first Lord has a will (to make the other Lord’s enemies His footstool), and the ability to express Himself (He is expressing Himself to the other Lord). Please note that the Lord asks the Lord to sit at His right hand. How can the Lord ask the Lord to take a different position in relation to Himself if they are not different persons?
After reading this passage, we can only conclude that these “Lord[s]” are two distinct persons. The only alternative is to believe God is talking to Himself about how He is going to defeat His enemies for Himself. They must also unreasonably believe He is telling Himself to sit beside Himself. Believers of Oneness theology must impose their theology onto the text here instead of reading it for what it really says. It is also important that Christ quotes this verse in Matthew 22:41-45 while conversing with the Pharisees. Quoting the verse, Christ points out His existence, before His incarnation, as David’s Lord when Psalm 110 was written, and now He has entered creation as David’s descendant, or “son.”
New Testament: The Trinity Revealed
Passages that show Christ’s eternal existence refute the Oneness theological position. Such verses prove that, before the incarnation, there is a distinction in the Godhead between the Father and the Son. Not only does this rebut the Oneness position, but it also provides evidence for the Trinity. Clearer evidence can be found in John 1:1-3, 14. John writes,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The first thing we should notice here is the “Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Since the Word is identified as God and is said to be with God, the reader should infer that the verse is communicating that God was with God. “With” is used to explain how things relate to one another, and never how something relates to itself. This implies two different persons. Next, we see that the Word was in the beginning with God. From this, we should understand that the Word (who is identified as God) is eternal and has always been distinct from God (identified as the Father later in this same chapter). The Word is in the beginning with God also means the Word existed prior to the incarnation. Verse 14 identifies Jesus as the Word, saying “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” We must believe all the attributes of the Word belong to Jesus, because we know Jesus is the Word.
According to this passage, He is God and He is a distinct person from the Father, and He existed before the incarnation. The distinction between Him and the Father did not arise in the incarnation as believers of Oneness argue. This passage also refutes the idea that God is playing different roles as Father, Son, and Spirit. We see clearly in John 1:1-3, 14 that God is with the Word (who is God), not that He is taking on the role of the Word. Finally, I must explain that this passage is not teaching polytheism, but the fact that God is more than one in person. Many scriptures affirm monotheism and John 1:1-3, 14 does not contradict them.
Christ’s interactions with the Father and the Holy Spirit are further proof of the Trinity. One of the clearest depictions of them interacting and thus, being distinct persons is in John 14.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
– John 14:16-17
In this passage, Jesus announces that He will ask the Father to send His disciples another Helper who is the Holy Spirit. Christ making a request of the Father shows that there is a distinction between the two as Christ is expressing His desire to another person. There is no reason to believe He is asking Himself in a different role as Oneness advocates might say. Also, Christ refers to the Holy Spirit as, “another Helper.”
By using the term, “another”, Christ distinguishes Himself from the Spirit. When the term “another” is used, it means a different person than the first. The Spirit is like Jesus in that He is a Helper, but He is not Jesus. The last verse here refers to the Spirit as a Helper, which implies He is a person. An impersonal force cannot help, but a divine person who has emotions, a will, and the ability to express Himself is capable of being a “Helper.”
I must say, respectfully, Oneness theology is heresy. Obviously, rejecting the triune God of Scripture in favor of the unbiblical Oneness conception of God is idolatry. God demands that we worship Him as He has revealed Himself and not as we imagine Him to be (Exodus 20:3-17). One cannot deny Jesus is a divine person distinct from God the Father and still be worshiping Christ. We cannot dispense with Christ’s distinctness from the Father anymore than we can dispense with His divinity and incarnation as a man. These attributes are essential to understanding Christ’s true identity and the nature of the Godhead. I encourage all people, not just those who believe in Oneness, to repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation from God’s wrath. By faith in Him alone, not any actions on your behalf, you will be forgiven for your sins and reconciled to God for eternity in Heaven.
Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.
– 1 John 2:22-23
May we worship Jesus Christ as He has revealed Himself and not how we desire Him to be.