Monday, June 12, 2017

Oneness Theology vs. a Trinity of Three Persons



Oneness theology originated from the Pentecostal movement in the early 20th century, which states that God is one in person in Jesus Christ. This conclusion was reached when it was noticed that the apostles baptized in the name of Lord Jesus or Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38), and not in the "name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" as commanded by Jesus (Matt. 28:19). It was then realized that the apostles understood the "name" to be none other than Jesus Christ, and that the fullness of the entire Godhead resides in Jesus Christ bodily (Col. 2:9). Thus God is one in person in Jesus Christ.

The Oneness Pentecostal movement started completely independently of the heavenly revelations given to Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century, which for the most part confirm that the Oneness Pentecostals are correct in their essential idea. Remarkably, Oneness Pentecostals and the New Church tend to be completely ignorant of each other.

Predictably, traditional trinitarian apologists who improperly divide God into three beings or persons have attacked Oneness theology, by using certain passages of scripture which they think confirm the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. So here, lets take a look at what trinitarian apologist have said against Oneness theology, and compare them with the doctrines of the New Church to shed more light on this issue.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ONENESS THEOLOGY AND TRINITARIAN BELIEF

A random search of Oneness theology brought up this article: Oneness Pentecostalism and the Trinity. The Oneness position is as follows:
"the doctrine that God is absolutely one in numerical value, that Jesus is the one God, and that God is not a plurality of persons."
Which is correct, as stated by Deuteronomy 6:4, which was quoted by Jesus as the greatest commandment. The article however subscribes to the traditional trinitarian view:
The doctrine of the Trinity was concisely stated by the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647): "In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons (personae), of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost." Thus, the Trinity is understood to be one God, yet three "persons." The Athanasian Creed explicitly rejects tritheism (belief in three Gods), stating that "they are not three Gods: but one God."
The statement of the Athanasian Creed is obviously logically inconsistent: it is in fact a tritheistic belief. If there is a "one" it is one substance, and from that God is not a person but a substance. And this goes against all of scripture, which declares the Lord, or Jehovah, to be one personal being - thus Jehovah states His name is "I AM" (Ex. 3:14), not "we are." This can also be seen from the name "Jehovah," which scholars have determined to be based on a word meaning "to be."

TRINITARIAN ARGUMENTS AGAINST ONENESS THEOLOGY

The article proceeds in arguments against Oneness theology. It starts with a definition of Father and Son in Oneness theology, and a quote from Isaiah 9:6 in which the Messiah (Christ) is declared to be the "eternal Father":
According to Oneness theology, the term "Father" designates Christ's deity, while "Son" designates either His humanity considered separately or His deity as manifested in the flesh. Therefore, while Oneness believers say that the Father is not the Son, they do hold that Jesus is both the Father and the Son. The most common proof text used to prove that Jesus is the Father is Isaiah 9:6, which gives Christ the name "Everlasting Father," or rather, "Father of eternity"
Instead of following scripture, the article then comes up with an interesting twist on Isaiah 9:6:
A number of proper names in the Old Testament use the term "ab" "in accordance with a custom usual in Hebrew and in Arabic, where he who possesses a thing is called the father of it."
This is a very weak argument. Indeed, there are names with the name "ab" or father in it, but personal names do not indicate the meaning, as the passage is not referencing mere personal names but indicating the Divine nature of the Messiah. Here is the full text of Isaiah 9:6:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isa. 9:6)
This is an obvious prediction of the Lord's coming in human form. He is here called "mighty God" indicating He is God in human form, He is also the eternal Father. In the doctrines of the New Church, it was Jehovah God Himself who descended to become incarnate as man, not another person (True Christian Religion, n. 82.2). Also the Father and Son are one in Jesus Christ as the soul and body are one (True Christian Religion, n. 98, 101, 112,6, etc.). That Father and Son are one as soul and body are one is a doctrine of the New Church, but Oneness theology only implies or hints at this doctrine. The article continues:
In John 10:30, Jesus stated, "I and the Father are one." Oneness believers erroneously understand this to mean that they are one "person." As is often pointed out, such an interpretation is guarded against by the use of the neuter "heri" rather than the masculine "heis" for "one," thereby suggesting essential unity but not absolute identity. Also precluding a one-person interpretation is the first-person plural "we are" ("esmen"). If Jesus were the Father, He could have said, "I am the Father," or "the Son and the Father are one ("heis")," or some other equivalent; but as it stands, John 10:30 excludes modalism and Oneness...
That Father and Son are plural is indeed true, but that does not mean a plurality of persons as assumed by traditional trinitarian theology. In the New Church doctrine, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is defined to be the Divine itself, the Divine Human, and the Divine proceeding.  The Father and Son are one as the soul and body are one, and are two aspects of the Divine Being. I will skip over the argument from Greek definitions for now, as it is not only unclear, but also quite likely Jesus spoke in Aramaic. The next significant weak argument comes in the following passage:
A favorite passage of Modalists in all centuries has been John 14:6-11, where Jesus says, among other things, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father." Jesus begins by asserting, "No one comes to the Father except through Me" (v. 6). The natural sense of these words is that Jesus is, not the Father, but a mediator between us and the Father. Then He states, "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also" (v. 7a). This is true, not because Jesus is the Father, but because those who know Jesus are led by Him to know the Father as they see Him imaged perfectly in Jesus. Thus, says Jesus, "from now on you know Him, and have seen Him" (v. 7b). Existing with the Father as the one indivisible Divine Being, Jesus can say, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (v. 9). Nevertheless, Jesus does not say, "I am the Father," but rather, "I am in the Father and the Father is in Me" (v. 10, repeated in v. 11; cf. 10:38).
The passage of John 14 is indeed hard for traditional trinitarian theology to explain away. Jesus Christ is indeed the perfect image of the Father (Col. 1:15, 2 Cor. 4:4), because the Father is the invisible Divine and the Son is the visible Divine in human form.  And note that Jesus said, "I am in the Father and the Father is in Me." If the Trinity is indeed three distinct persons, how can two of the distinct persons be inside one another? One knows the soul of the person by interacting with his or her visible outward form, the body. The article continues:
Oneness believers frequently cite the second part of this last statement, "the Father is in Me," to mean that the deity ("Father") dwells in the humanity ("Son") of Jesus. This view, however, fails to explain the first part of the sentence, "I am in the Father," which in Oneness terms would have to mean that the human nature of Jesus dwells in the deity -- the opposite of what they believe
Here New Church doctrine can clarify the matter. There are two points here: the human form of Jesus was made Divine and one with the Father upon the resurrection. The other point is that there are two primary aspects to the Divine: Divine love and Divine truth. The Divine descended in human form as to the Divine truth, which remains in perpetual union with Divine love. Divine love is in Divine truth, and vice versa: Divine truth is in the Divine love, because they are in perpetual union. Truth provides form to Love, and the ultimate form of Truth is the human form. The article continues:
Moreover, it fails to account for the fact that "in this same context," as well as elsewhere, Jesus uses this sort of expression to denote His unity with believers: "In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you" (v. 20; cf. 17:21-23).
The article omits the context of the entire passage (John 14:16-19), where it is quite apparent that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit which dwells in all Christians. And this is clearly problematic to trinitarians: Jesus refers to Himself as dwelling inside us through the Holy Spirit. According to trinitarian doctrine the Holy Spirit is defined as a distinct person. But Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit as Himself. In New Church doctrine, the Holy Spirit is not another distinct person, but the Divine proceeding. That the Holy Spirit emanates from Jesus Christ can be seen in the following passage:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:21-22)
The Holy Spirit is the Divine proceeding from the Divine Human, thus it is described here as the breath of Jesus.  It is obviously not a distinct person, it is simply the Divine Spirit that emanates from God Himself to all humanity through His human form. Jesus was sent into the world by being conceived by the Holy Spirit, in a similar manner we are sent into the world as a testimony when we receive the Holy Spirit. The article continues:
Since Colossians 2:9 says that the fullness of "the Godhead" dwells in Jesus, Oneness believers argue, the Godhead is in Jesus, not Jesus in the Godhead. This either/or approach, however, would force Colossians 2:9 to contradict John 10:38 where Jesus states, "the Father is in Me, and I am in the Father." Since "the Father" in Oneness terms is "the Godhead," John 10:38 in their terms means that the Godhead is in Jesus, and Jesus is in the Godhead.
Col. 2:9 is problematic for trinitarians, who state that Jesus is a part of the Godhead. I doubt that Oneness theologians define the Father as the Godhead, thus this is probably a straw man argument. The Father is the Divine itself, which resides in the Son which is the Divine Human. Oneness theology in this sense is in perfect agreement with Col. 2:9, a trinity of three persons is not.

SCRIPTURAL PASSAGES USED BY TRADITIONAL TRINITARIANS

The article includes a section where they try to support the idea that Father and Son are two persons, which it defines as a self aware subject. But even in the definition, the article comes into a logical contradiction:
If, then, the Father and the Son are consistently presented in Scripture as two self-aware subjects, then they are two persons, even if they are one being.
Got that? They are two persons but one being? And the difference between a person and a being is what? A traditional trinity of three persons is inherently logically contradictory, and this shows it is inherently false, as one can find similar logical contradictions in the Athanasian Creed itself - unless one admits this is in reality tritheism. The first passages the article uses to support a trinity of three persons is the following:
There are, first of all, two passages in John where Jesus states that He and the Father serve as two witnesses authenticating His ministry (John 5:31-32; 8:16-18). His statement, "there is another ("allos") who bears witness concerning Me (5:32), proves that Jesus is not the Father. The term "allos" is used here to mean someone "different {from} the subject who is speaking."
These passages, when one looks at them carefully, do not show they are two persons. In fact only one person is speaking throughout: Jesus alone is the only person speaking (thus the Jews asked, "Where is your Father?" - John 8:19 - because only one person was present). I already dealt with this passage in The Father and Son are one Person in Jesus Christ and I will quote it here:
Recently, I encountered a third objection from a trinitarian, who quoted this verse:
It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me bears witness of me. (John 8:17-18) 
So does this prove the Father and Son are two distinct persons? No it does not. One person is speaking here, and that is Jesus Christ, which is why the Jews next ask who is His Father. So if one person is speaking, how can Jesus claim there are two witnesses? Quite easy, Jesus explained this before:
But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father has given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. And the Father himself, which hath sent me, has borne witness of me (John 5:36-37) 
In other words there are two witnesses to confirm the identity of Jesus Christ:
  1. The teachings of Jesus which is centered upon Himself as Lord, and,
  2. The works of miracles He did
This is why the Jews found it so hard to confront Jesus, because of His miracles and the works that He did. The works, His doings, is of the Father, because the Father is the Divine love which was the will of Jesus. The Divine truth was His teaching, and they bear witness of each other. 
Here is another argument used by traditional trinitarians:
Further evidence is gained from the many passages that state that the Father sent the Son (John 3:17; Galatians 4:4; 1 John 4:10; etc.).
Since the assumption is that we have two persons it is assumed this proves their point. But the Father is the Divine itself, who sent the human form into this world by having it conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Son is the Divine in human form, and thus He was born as Jesus to the virgin Mary. The Divine Human was sent into the world by the Divine itself, through the emanation of the Divine proceeding, the Holy Spirit. And here comes the main argument of traditional trinitarians:
Devastating to the Oneness view are the passages where Jesus prays to the Father. Of course, they are aware of the problem and have an answer -- the human nature prayed to the divine nature. However, this runs into the same problem as with the love of the two for one another: natures do not talk, only persons do.
So as Jesus prays to the Father as another, that proves their point, correct?  No it does not. In this case the doctrines of the New Church offer a better explanation than that of Oneness theologians. In the New Church doctrine, Jesus was born into a lower state of being where He could be tempted. For His soul was Divine, but his external human form had inherited evil tendencies from the human mother. Temptation can only occur in a lowered state of being. In the New Church view, there are not two beings, but two states of being. For this point I will quote from Swedenborg in full:
"The Lord successively put off the human taken from the mother, and put on the Human from the Divine in Himself, which is the Divine Human and the Son of God. That the Lord had a Divine and a human, — the Divine from Jehovah the Father, and a human from the Virgin Mary, — is known. Thence it is that He was God and Man; and thus He had a Divine essence and a human nature, — the Divine essence from the Father, and the human nature from the mother; and thence He was equal to the Father as to the Divine, and less than the Father as to the human: also (as the doctrine of faith which is called the Athanasian Creed teaches) that He did not transmute this human nature from the mother into the Divine essence, nor commix it with it; for the human nature cannot be transmuted into the Divine essence, nor can it be commixed with it. And yet from the same creed is our doctrine, that the Divine took on the Human, that is, united itself to it, as the soul unites itself to its body, until they were not two, but one person. From this it follows, that He put off the human from the mother, which in itself was like the human of another man, and thus material, and put on the Human from the Father, which in itself was like His Divine, and thus substantial; from which the Human also was made Divine. Thence it is, that the Lord, in the Word of the Prophets, even as to the Human is called Jehovah and God; and in the Word of the Evangelists, the Lord, God, the Messiah or Christ, and the Son of God, in Whom men are to believe, and by Whom they are to be saved. Now, because the Lord had from the beginning a human from the mother, and put this off successively, therefore while He was in the world He had two states, which are called the state of humiliation or of exinanition, and the state of glorification or of union with the Divine which is called the Father,— the state of humiliation so far as and when He was in the human from the mother, and the state of glorification so far as and when He was in the Human from the Father. In the state of humiliation He prayed to the Father, as to one other than Himself; but in the state of glorification He spake with the Father as with Himself. In the latter state, He said that the Father was in Him, and He in the Father, and that the Father and He were one; but in the state of humiliation He underwent temptations, and suffered the cross, and prayed that the Father would not forsake Him: for the Divine could not be tempted, and still less suffer the cross." (Doctrine of the Lord, n. 35, found in The Doctrines of the New Jerusalem. See also True Christian Religion)
Initially Jesus had a Divine nature as to his soul, and a human nature as to his body, but associated with this were two states of being.  The state of "exinanition" can also be called a state of humiliation, a state of emptying, a state of enfeeblement, a lowered state. The apostle Paul understood this, who described the lowering of the Divine into a human form of a servant in Phil. 2:5-11. On this point, admittedly Oneness theologians do not describe it well as they define the Father and Son as two natures, whereas the New Church view is that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit describe the emanation of the Divine Being. Also, although Jesus was born into two natures, upon the resurrection He had one Divine nature, and had become a Divine Human. Thus one does not find any prayers of Jesus praying to the Father after the resurrection.

WAS THE SON BORN IN TIME OR WAS THERE A SON BORN FROM ETERNITY?

All traditional trinitarians make the same mistake in assuming that there was a Son "born from eternity." The article makes the same mistake:
Since the "Son," in Oneness theology, is the incarnate Jesus Christ, they cannot allow the doctrine that the Son preexisted His incarnation to go unchallenged. The concept of "eternal Sonship," and especially "eternal generation," is, they say, both unbiblical and unreasonable. On this point, a number of respected Trinitarian, evangelical scholars can be found who agree.
This belief actually originates from the Nicene Creed, which invented a Son born from eternity in order to combat Arianism. The original apostolic belief was that the Son was born in time to the virgin Mary, and this is declared in scripture (Luke 1:35). So the Oneness doctrine is indeed Biblical. This is discussed in detail in the previous blog post, Is the Nicene Creed Biblical? Does the Nicene Creed define True Christianity?  The Nicene Creed is actually a modified version of the Apostle's Creed, which for the most part is in agreement with scripture (see The Nicene Creed: a distorted version of the Apostle's Creed). However, out of the entire Old Testament, the article comes up with a single passage to prove that there was an eternally pre-existent Son:
Proverbs 30:4 asks concerning God, "What is His name or His son's name?" This statement clearly implies that the Son existed at the time the passage was written. To circumvent this conclusion, Oneness writers argue that the passage is a "prophecy" (see 30:1, KJV, where this word appears), and is therefore referring to the future time when God would manifest Himself as the Son.
This passage does not prove an eternally existing Son. Again, Luke 1:35 is conclusive: the Son was born in time to the virgin Mary. Also we have this passage:
I will declare the decree: Jehovah has said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. (Ps. 2:7)
The phrase "this day" is in time, to be "begotten" refers to the virgin birth, being conceived by the Holy Spirit. That there is no eternal person besides Jehovah is explicitly stated in many passages of the Old Testament, showing that a trinity of three persons is foreign to scripture, and would be considered idolatry to the prophets:
See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me (Deut. 32:39)
Thus says Jehovah, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, Jehovah of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. (Isa. 44:6)
In the latter passage it is Jehovah who is King, it is Jehovah who is Redeemer, it is Jehovah who is first and last. There is only one Divine Being. It was Jehovah Himself who descended to become incarnate in human form, not another person. However the article continues in its error:
Then there are the many passages which state that the Word or Son created the universe (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2; Revelation 3:14; etc.) Hebrews 1:2 says that God made the ages through His "Son" -- to which Oneness writers reply that "God used His foreknowledge of the Son when He created the world. He predicated the entire creation on the future arrival of Christ."
This again shows a misunderstanding of the Divine. There are two aspects to the Divine: Divine Love and Divine Truth, and it is the Divine Truth which descended and became flesh. This Divine Truth is known as "the Word" or Logos in the New Testament. And indeed all things were created by the Word or Divine Truth. The Word was made flesh, the flesh is the Son, which did not exist before the incarnation. The article continues with what it thinks is a conclusive argument:
Whenever in Scripture the Son is said to have said or done something, or even existed, prior to the Incarnation, it is explained as only being true in God's foreknowledge. This arbitrary handling of Scripture is justified by appealing to Revelation 13:8, which speaks of those "whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (KJV). While this translation is grammatically possible, the parallel passage in Revelation 17:8 suggests that the correct rendering is, "whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain" (NASB). Once it is understood that Revelation 13:8 cannot be used to relegate anything said of the past to the foreknowledge of God, it becomes clear that Jesus existed prior to creation\with\the Father.
On these passages from the Apocalypse both Oneness theologians and traditional trinitarians are both incorrect. The phrase "foundation of the world" does not refer to the creation of the universe, but rather to the foundation of the present world-age, or the foundation of the Christian Church. Jesus was rejected and slain before the Christian Church was established. But it goes further than that: in the spiritual sense, it means the Christian Church in general does not acknowledge that the human nature of Jesus has been made Divine, and is the Divine Human:
"Slain from the foundation of the world, signifies the Lord's Divine Human not acknowledged from the first establishment of the church. That by the Lamb slain is signified that the Lord's Divine Human has not been acknowledged, may be seen above (n. 59, 269)... From the foundation of the world signifies the first establishment of the church, as well the Jewish as the Christian. It is known that the Jews did not acknowledge the Lord's Divine Human. That the Roman Catholics do not, is also known: and that neither do the Reformed, see above (n. 294). The creation of the world is not meant here by the foundation of the world, but the establishment of the church: for by the world, in the widest sense, the whole world is meant, and as well the good as the evil in it, and sometimes the evil only; but in a sense not the widest, the same is meant by the world as by the globe and by the earth, that is, the church." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 589)
Those who divide God into three persons, do not acknowledge the Divine Human. They thus will divide Jesus into two natures:
it is true that adherence to the two natures of Christ is critical to orthodoxy
Thus they do not acknowledging the human as Divine, yet it is His human form which is the Son. Jesus remains rejected, with the other persons of the trinity standing like two thieves on either side of Jesus.

THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST IS THE NAME OF THE FATHER

Oneness theologians gained the insight that the name of Jesus is in fact the name of the Father:
Central to the theology of Oneness Pentecostalism is an emphasis on the name "Jesus" as the name of God since the Incarnation. The Oneness movement began, in fact, with the "revelation" that the "name" of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit spoken of in Matthew 28:19 was the name "Jesus," based on Acts 2:38 in particular. This is why Oneness Pentecostals are so adamant that baptism be administered in the name of "Jesus only."
The article goes into the other meanings of the word "name" and indeed it does have multiple meanings. But on this essential point the Oneness theologians are correct, and what is unusual they arrived at this conclusion completely independent of the revelations of the New Church. For example, in the Lord's prayer we say "Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be Thy name."  The name here is Jesus Christ, showing that we should not pray to the Father as a separate person, but to Jesus Christ directly:
"But let us return to the Lord's prayer, where it is said, Our Father who art in the heavens, hallowed be Thy Name, Thy kingdom come. You who are here understand by these words the Father in His Divine alone; but I understand Him in His Human, and this also is the Father's Name; for the Lord said, Father, glorify Thy Name; that is, Thy Human; and when this is done the kingdom of God comes; and this prayer was commanded for this end, namely, that God the Father may be approached through His Human. The Lord also said, No one cometh unto the Father but by Me; and by the prophet, Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and His name is God, Mighty, the Father of eternity; and in another place, Thou, O Jehovah, art our Father; our Redeemer from everlasting is Thy Name; beside a thousand other places, where the Lord our Saviour is called Jehovah. This is the true explanation of the words of that prayer." (True Christian Religion, n. 112.6)

THE FALSE CONCLUSION OF TRADITIONAL TRINITARIANS

Oneness theology is monotheistic, the traditional trinitarian theology is tritheistic.  They use traditional doctrines and from those traditions try to make scripture fit their doctrine, and to do so they must distort or ignore certain passages of scripture. Despite this, the article grudingly concedes that many tradition evangelicals consider Oneness Pentecostals to be Christian:
Evangelicals commonly suppose that a professed Christian movement may be judged orthodox or heretical simply on the basis of whether or not it affirms the full deity and humanity of Christ. Consequently, some Christians have concluded that the Oneness doctrine, despite its denial of the Trinity, is essentially Christian.
The article wants to say that this is too "simplistic" and wants to declare Oneness theology as a heresy, as if pure monotheism can lead to something bad. But the problem is the article is using traditional doctrines invented by men as the measure of truth, and these traditions distract people from an essential understanding of who Jesus really is.  They pray to a "Father God" as someone distinct from Jesus, and although they confess one God by mouth, in the mind they hold to a tritheistic belief.

With a true understanding of who Jesus really is, one will achieve new spiritual understanding and fulfill the Lord's Prayer.


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