The Trinitarian View of Jesus Christ

James Kinnebrew
James Kinnebrew

James is a Theology professor at Luther Rice College. He earned a B.S., M.Div. from Liberty University and his Ph.D. at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.

Jesus Christ

We may not fully understand it, but Oneness Christology is easy to explain, easy to understand, and easy to illustrate. Trinitarianism is not.

It has been said that one who tries to understand the Trinity will “lose his mind,” but anyone who denies that doctrine will “lose his soul.” [1] Scripture provides little warrant for such a solemn warning, but that does not mean that we should not seek to know all we can about the true nature of our God.  After all, the better we know Him, the more we will love Him; the more we love Him, the closer we will follow Him (John 14.15, 21); and that is the duty of all mankind (Eccles 12.13).

In a recent Perspective, David K. Bernard gave a clear presentation of the modalistic “Oneness” view of Jesus Christ. [2] That perspective is not without appeal. It is rational, easy to explain, and easily understood; but is that what we should expect when speaking of the eternal and infinite One Who is like no other (Isaiah 45.21ff)? More importantly, is that what the Scripture really teaches about the Personhood of God? 

Four Truths and Three More

Both Trinitarians and Oneness theologians agree with the following Scriptural affirmations:
1. There is but one God (Deut 4.39, Is 45.21-22, 1 Cor 8.4-6)
2. The Father is God (Rom 1.7, Gal 1.1, etc.)
3. The Son is God (John 1.1-3, 14; 10.30-33, etc.)
4. The Holy Spirit is God (Gen 1.1-2, Acts 5.3-4)

Trinitarians add three assertions that Oneness advocates deny:
5. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit
6. The Son is not the Father or the Spirit
7. The Spirit is not the Father or the Son

Since both schools of thought agree with the first set of truths (1-4), the remainder of this article will seek to show that the second set (5-7) is based on Scripture and logically leads to the Trinitarian faith—a faith that logic and reason alone could never birth, but a faith to which revelation compels us.

The Father Is Not the Son

That “Our Father in Heaven” (Matt 6.9) is a separate Personage from the Son seems clear from words said by the Father to and about the Son, things said by the Son to and about the Father, and Scripture’s other statements about the Two of them. Too many examples exist for an exhaustive listing, but the following give sufficient evidence for the truth of this assertion.

The Father to/about the Son

In creation, “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’” (Gen 1.26-27). If there is no real plurality in Elohim, this conversation and the plural pronouns seem strangely out of place.

The Father’s words in Gen 3.22ff, Gen 11.7ff, Ps 2.7ff, Ps 110.1-2 (cf. Heb 1.10) and the three audible pronouncements out of Heaven (Matt 3.16-17, Mark 9.7, John 12.28) also indicate plurality in the Godhead and a real distinction between Persons.

The Son to/about the Father

Jesus said that the Jews who were looking at Him and hearing His voice, had never heard or seen the Father (John 5:37).

He said that He did not know the day or the hour of His coming, but the Father did (Mark 13.32).

Jesus’ dying words are also quite perplexing if He is the Father. Rather than forgiving His killers, He asked the Father to do so (Luke 23.34). He thought the Father was forsaking Him (Matt 27.46), and He committed His spirit into the Father’s hands (Luke 23.46).

Just as perplexing is Jesus’ discourse regarding His return to the Father and the sending of the Spirit (John 14.16). Can modalism do justice to such words?

The Scriptures about Both Father and Son

The simultaneous appearance of all three Persons at Christ’s baptism (Matt 3.16-17), the threefold Name (Matt 28.19), and the triune benediction of Paul (2 Cor 13.14) all support Trinitarian distinctions.

Scriptural challenges to modalism are numerous:

In John, Jesus is the Word, Who “was with God,” “was God [i.e., divine],” and “became flesh” (John 1.1-3, 14).

After the resurrection, Jesus was “exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2.33; cf., 7.55; Col 3.1; Hebrews 10.12; etc.).

The apostles regularly draw a distinction between “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1.7b, cf., Col 1.12-14) as between all three Persons (Acts 2.33, 2 Cor 13.13, etc.).

The Spirit Is Not the Son

That the Holy Spirit is a separate Personage from the Son also seems clear from words said by the Son about the Spirit and from Scripture’s statements about the Two of them.

The Son about the Spirit

The modalistic view of God is extremely difficult to harmonize with the words of Jesus regarding the Third Person:

Words spoken against Jesus will be forgiven; not so for those spoken against the Spirit (Matt 12.32). Jesus regularly spoke of the Holy Spirit as a Person separate from Himself and the Father (Luke 11.13; John 15.26; 16.12-14, etc.)

Other Scriptures about Both Son and Spirit

Peter was aware that Jesus received the Holy Spirit from the Father and “poured out this which you now see and hear” (Acts 2.33).  The author of Hebrews knew that those who reject the Son of God are also insulting “the Spirit of Grace” (Heb 10.29). The true and distinct personality of each is assumed.

Conclusion

Oneness Christology is easy to explain, easy to understand, and easy to illustrate. Trinitarianism is not.

We may not fully understand it; but bowing the knee to divine revelation, we accept it and sing:

“Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, Three we name you;
While in essence only one, undivided God we claim you.
Then, adoring, bend the knee, and confess the mystery.” [3]

CITATIONS

1. Dr. Fred Sanders has traced the apparent source of this quote to a sermon from the seventeenth-century English preacher Robert South: https://scriptoriumdaily.com/lose-my-wits-unhinge-my-brains-ruin-my-mind-pursue-distraction/ (accessed 03/02/2021).
2. https://mphbooks.com/oneness-view-jesus-christ/ (accessed 03/02/2021).
3. Ignaz Franz, “Holy God, We Praise Your Name,” 1774.

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