A Biblical Critique by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

From: Christian Research Institute magazine Forward, Fall 1985.

An astonishing number of professing Christians today reject the doctrine of

the Trinity. Of course, there are obvious examples of this, like the Mormons

and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Then there are the "Christian" liberals who

reject the Trinity along with the Incarnation as myths. Evangelicals

generally have no trouble identifying such movements as heretical, since in

each case they deny the deity of Christ.

Recently, though, anti-trinitarianism has emerged in yet another form, that of

Oneness Pentecostalism. (1) The movement began in 1913 and has grown quickly

since then to over four million worldwide, (2) making it the second-largest

anti-trinitarian movement. (Mormonism is the largest with over five million.)

What sets Oneness Pentecostalism apart from other anti-trinitarian heresies is

its seeming orthodoxy. Unlike Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, for example,

Oneness Pentecostals teach both that there is one God and that Jesus is fully

God. For this reason, many Christians have difficulty seeing anything wrong

with the Oneness position. Moreover, unlike Mormonism and similar sects,

Oneness Pentecostals make no appeal whatsoever to extrabiblical literature or

modern leaders for authoritative interpretations of Scripture. Compared to

many other controversial sects, Oneness Pentecostalism appears quite orthodox

in many respects.

If the Oneness doctrine is heretical, then, it must be admitted to be a much

subtler error than that of many current heresies. Subtlety does not, however,

make an error less dangerous, but more, since the subtler the error the more

people are likely to fall for it (people are more apt to accept a criminal's

conterfeit bills as real money than they are Monopoly bills). This potential

danger makes it all the more important that the Oneness teaching be evaluated

on the basis of Scripture.


The Oneness position is "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."


God is generally said to be neither one "person" nor three, on the assumption

that the term "person" is applicable only to individual human beings; the

incarnate Jesus, though, is agreed to be one person. (4)

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three "manifestations" of the one God, who

is not, though, limited to these three manifestations. (5)

Because almost all Oneness groups hold to the Pentecostal doctrine that

receiving the Holy Spirit is evidenced initially by speaking in tongues, these

groups are generally called "Oneness Pentecostals."

Oneness believers usually reject the nick-name "Jesus Only," feeling that it

implies a rejection of belief in the Father. (6) However, the name derives

from their insistence that baptism is to be administered "in the name of Jesus


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." (7)

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." (8)

Despite this fact, Oneness believers, along with Jews, Muslims, Jehovah's

Witnesses, and others, condemn the Trinity as tritheism. (9) The principal

reason for this misinterpretation is a faulty understanding of the term

"person." Its long and fascinating history cannot be traced here. (10)

The first theologian to use it of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit was

Tertullian (circa A.D.200), who borrowed the term in its legal sense of "a

party to a legal action" and used it in a relational context, while insisting

that the three 'personae' were one God. (11)

To speak of three eternal persons in this sense is to recognize relationships

among the Three that transcend manifestations in history. That is, each

person is a self-aware subject who relates to each of the other two as


In our finite world, we are used to encountering only finite beings, and every

person we meet is an entity separate from all other persons. However, God is

not finite, so it may be that as an infinite being He exists as three

distinguishable persons, while remaining one indivisible essence. Neither can

the term "person" be restricted to human beings, since angels are self-aware

subjects also. Whether God is three persons cannot be determined by reasoning

alone, but only by examining God's revelation of Himself in Scripture.


The Bible repeatedly asserts that God is one. He is one God (James 2:19) and

one Yahweh or Jehovah (Deut.6:4). The first plank in the trinitarian platform

is the indivisible oneness of God. However, nowhere in Scripture are we ever

told that God is one person.

It is sometimes argued that the use of 'echad' ("one") in Deuteronomy 6:4

indicates that God is a composite unity. That is not quite accurate, since

"composite" speaks of a uniting together of parts into a whole, whereas the

three Persons are not three "parts" or three "thirds" of God. Nor is it true

that 'echad' necessarily indicates some sort of inner plurality. Like its

Greek counterpart 'heis' in the

New Testament, 'echad' is simply the common Hebrew word for "one." However,

like both 'heis' and "one," 'echad' does not necessarily imply absolute,

unqualified and undifferentiated unity. Rather, the word "one" in any

language can only indicate unity as unity, whether that unity is in some sense

differentiated or not must be determined by other factors. For example, to

say that a certain biological entity is "one organism" says nothing about

whether it is unicellular (e.g., an amoeba) or multicellular (e.g., a man).

It may be one organism in one cell or one organism in many cells. In a

logically analogous manner, God might be one God in one person or one God in

three persons.

Of course, if God is three persons, these "three" cannot be three parts (as

cells are parts of an organism). Since God is an infinite being, He cannot be

composed of parts in any case. Yet it may be that He exists as a kind of

differentiated infinite unity that is 'triune' (three in one) though not

'triplex' (three in parts). Since this is the infinite God we are talking

about, there will be no corresponding or analogous instance of "triunity" or

trinity in nature. We must be careful, then, not to beg the question by

assuming that the unity of the Deity will be the same sort of unity as we find

in the finite world.


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 prooftext used to prove that Jesus is the Father is Isaiah

9:6, which gives Christ the name "Everlasting Father," or rather, "Father of

eternity" (as Oneness writers admit. (12)

The use of "Father" here supposedly identifies Jesus as the "God the Father"

of the New Testament. However, this is not the case. 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." (13)

Thus 'Abiethon' (2 Sam. 23:31), "father of strength," means "strong";

'Abiaseph' (Ex.6:24), "father of gathering," means "gatherer"; 'Abigail' (1

Chron.2:16), "father of exultation," is a woman's name meaning "exulting"; and

so forth.(14) Evidently, then, "Father of eternity" in Isaiah 9:6 means that

Jesus is eternal. This would imply, of course, that He is the creator of the

ages (cf. Heb.1:2; 11:3), but not that He is "the God and Father of our Lord

Jesus Christ" (2 Cor.1:3).

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. (15)

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 as

surely as it excludes Arianism.

Another such prooftext is John 5:43, where Jesus rebukes the Jews: "I have

come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his

own name, you will receive him." Oneness writers consistently interpret "in

My Father's name" as meaning that Jesus' name is the Father's name (i.e.,

Jesus is the Father). (16)

However, the expression "in the name of" here clearly means "in the authority

of"; thus the person whom Jesus warned would come "in his own name" will come

with "no credentials but his own claim." (17)

To receive someone who comes "in his own name" is therefore, according to

Jesus, a foolish act. This contrast between "My Father's name" and "his own

name" proves beyond question that Jesus did not come "in his own name."

Therefore, "Jesus" is not the Father's name, and so Jesus is not the Father.

Ironically, then, this is one of the clear prooftexts against the Oneness

doctrine that Jesus is the Father.

Also cited to prove that Jesus' name is the Father's name (and therefore that

Jesus is the Father) is John 17:6,11-12. Oneness writers emphasize that Jesus

"manifested" the Father's name, and that the Father "gave" His name to Jesus,

as evidence that Jesus is the Father. This interpretation overlooks the fact

that a human father can give his name to his son, without the father and son

being one person!

Moreover, notice that Jesus said twice that His disciples were "in Thy {the

Father's} name." If we interpret this phrase in the sense that the Oneness

believers assign to it in John 5:43, we come to the ridiculous conclusion that

the disciples are the Father! The Oneness interpretation simply does not

work. Since, as even Oneness writers acknowledge, God's "name" represents His

character and His power,(18) and since in the context Jesus is asking the

Father to keep the disciples holy and united (17:11-12,15-23), it is apparent

that Jesus is saying that He possessed and manifested the character and power

of the Father.

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).

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. 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).


Trinitarians affirm that Jesus Christ is fully God. This does not mean that

Jesus is the only person who is God; rather, it means that His nature is that

of perfect, essential deity. Thus the many passages which identify Jesus as

God (John 1:1; Tit.2:13; etc.) do not teach that Jesus is the Father. Only by

isolating these verses from their context, and in some cases by ignoring the

precise wording used by the biblical authors, can the Oneness position be


Perhaps the Scripture most often cited by Oneness believers in favor of their

view of God is Colossians 2:9, "For in Him {Christ} dwells all the fulness of

the Godhead bodily." This verse is the basis for the title of Oneness writer

Godon Magee's widely distributed booklet\Is Jesus in the Godhead or is the

Godhead in Jesus? (19)

Since Colossians 2:9 says that the fulness 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.

When Oneness believers deny that "Jesus is in the Godhead," what they mean to

deny is that Jesus is one person in a triune Godhead. Colossians 2:9, though,

does not rule out that possibility. What it affirms is that Jesus is no less

than the full and complete revelation of God's nature ('theotetos', "deity")

in the flesh. While not all three persons of God are incarnate in Jesus, all

of God's essence is incarnate in Jesus.


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. (20)

This is why Oneness Pentecostals are so adamant that baptism be administered

in the name of 'Jesus only.'

This interpretation assumes that there can be only one correct baptismal

formula, which would not appear to be provable from the texts themselves. It

also makes much of the fact that Jesus said "name," not "names." (21)

While this is true, it does not absolutely rule out one name applying to three

persons, since a singular name can apply to two or more persons (e.g.,

Gen.5:2; 11:4). Moreover, if one name is meant, it need not be "Jesus"; it

could be "Lord," the New Testament equivalent of the name of Yahweh in the Old


In order to reconcile Matthew 28:19 with Acts 2:38 and similar passages it is

helpful to see them as pertaining to two different historical contexts. Those

who were converted to Christ and baptized in the name of Jesus were either

Jews (Acts 2:5,38; 22:16), Samaritans (Acts 8:5,12,16), God-fearing Gentiles

(Acts 10:1-2,22,48), or disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-5). (22)

Already knowing of the God revealed in the Old Testament, the critical issue

for them was a confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior. When pagan Gentiles

who knew little or nothing of the God of Israel were led to Christ, however,

they would need to confess their faith, not only in Jesus as Lord, but in the

one God revealed in Scripture as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (23)

Jesus, ordaining that the gospel be taken "to all the nations," made provision

for this in His "great commission" (Matt.28:19). In order to demonstrate that

"Jesus" is the name for God in the New Testament, Oneness Pentecostals cite

passages such as Acts 4:12 ("no other name under which we must be

saved") and Philippians 2:9-10 (God "bestowed on Him the name which is above

every name, that in the name of Jesus..."). The point of Acts 4:12 is

identical to that of John 14:6 --salvation is through Jesus Christ alone; it

does not mean that Jesus alone is God. In Philippians 2:9-10 "the name which

is above every name" does not mean the name 'Jesus,' but rather, an additional

name which the Father has bestowed on Jesus because of His obedience to the

point of death (v.8). In context, that name is "Lord," since the passage

concludes, "and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord"

(v.11). That "Lord" is the name given to Jesus can be confirmed by a

multitude of texts (see, for example, Acts 2:36; Rom.10:9, I Cor.12:3; 2

Cor.4:5). This is consistent with the fact that "Lord" (kurios) is the New

Testament equivalent of "Yahweh" or "Jehovah," the name of God in the Old

Testament (e.g., Acts 2:21; Rom.10:13).


According to Oneness theology, the Father and Son are two natures in the one

person, Jesus Christ. If "person" is defined as "an individual being," then

without question God is only one "person" in that sense. However, that is not

the best definition of the term, which is, as we have already explained, used

to mean simply a "self-aware subject," that is, an "I" aware of its own

existence and the existence of other self-aware subjects. If, then, the

Father and the Son are consistenty presented in Scripture as two self-aware

subjects, then they are two persons, even if they are one being. And the

evidence for them being two persons is overwhelming; only a few examples can

be given here. (24)

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."


In John 8:16-18, Jesus makes the same point, and clarifies it by quoting the

Old Testament principle that two witnesses, not just one, are required for a

judgment to be considered valid (Deut.17:6; 19:15; also Num.35:30). According

to Oneness theology, what Jesus must have meant was that His divine Spirit and

His human nature both testified.

If Jesus is only one person, though, then only "one person" testified, not

two, as Jesus' words demand. It would make just as much sense for a man to

say in court, "I am two witnesses to the crime -- my body testifies, and my

soul testifies," as for Jesus alone to be two witnesses. These passages,

then, are fairly explicit statements to the effect that Jesus and the Father

are two persons.

Further evidence is gained from the many passages that state that the Father

sent the Son (John 3:17; Gal.4:4; I John 4:10; etc.). The point here is not

that the Son existed prior to His birth (though that is true enough), but that

the Son is a person other than the Father. It is therefore irrelevant to our

point to cite John 1:6 (which says that God sent John the Baptist), as Oneness

writers often do. (26)

In fact, John 1:6 lends weight to the trinitarian view, since God and John the

Baptist are, of course, two persons. Moreover, note that Jesus told the

Disciples that He was sending them just as the Father had sent Him (John

17:18; 20:21). Necessarily implied here is that the disciples were not Jesus;

neither was Jesus the Father. Also relevant is the fact that the Father loves

the Son (John 3:25; 17:23-26; etc.), and that Jesus loves the Father (John

14:31). This most naturally implies two persons; it certainly demands

relationship, which is central to our definition of "person." The Oneness

explanation, "The Spirit of Jesus loved the humanity and vice versa," (27)

amounts to saying that Jesus loved Himself. The fact is that natures do not

love, persons do. My human nature cannot love -- only I can love, in and

through my human nature. If Oneness is correct, why is it that Jesus clearly

and consistently implied that He and the Father were two persons, rather than

saying the things which

Oneness theologians think He meant?

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. In answer to this difficulty, their response is, "What would

be absurd or impossible for an ordinary man is not so strange with Jesus."


But this response evades the point: when Jesus prayed He prayed as a person

talking to another person, not as one nature talking to another nature. Jesus

addressed God as "Father," which is a relational term, not as "My divine

nature," as the Oneness believers assume He meant.


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. (29)

A mediating position rejects "eternal generation" but retains the concept of

"eternal Sonship." (30)

For our purpose in this article, it is not esential to settle this question.

What we wish to know is not whether it is proper to speak of "the Son" as such

prior to the Incarnation, but rather, whether the person who is the Son

existed as a person distinct from the Father prior to the Incarnation. To

this question, the biblical answer is a clear yes.

For example, 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. (31)

However, the word rendered "prophecy" here and at Proverbs 31:1, 'massa', is

usually rendered "burden" (over 50 times in the KJV). A simple reading of

chapters 30 and 31 should demonstrate that neither "burden" is a predictive

prophecy. Thus the Son existed at least as far back as Agur's day (30:1).

Then there are the many passages which state that the Word or Son created the

universe (John 1:3; Col.1:16-17; Heb.1:2; Rev.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." (32)

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

fore- knowledge. 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).(33)

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. Thus, John 1:1, "the Word was with

God," means He was really there.

The Oneness explanation that "with" ('pros') here should be rendered

"pertaining to," based on Hebrews 2:17 and 5:1 (34) ignores the grammatical

difference between John 1:1 and the Hebrews texts.(35) Jesus' request to the

Father in John 17:5 is to be taken literally: "And now, glorify Me, O Father,

with yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world existed."

The word 'para' ("with") is "nearly always" used of a personal

relationship,(36) and is without question so used in this context, which uses

the relational pronouns "I" and "You" and the relational name "Father."


Confronted with the biblical evidence for a plurality of persons in the unity

of the Deity, Oneness advocates are likely to turn away from the biblical text

itself to one or more stock objections to the doctrine of the Trinity, all of

which are used by anti-trinitarians of all persuasions. We can only respond

briefly to two of these.

The most common objection to the Trinity is that the doctrine employs

nonbiblical terminology ("Trinity," "person," etc.). While this is true, it

proves nothing. The word "Oneness" is not in the Bible, either; nor does the

Bible ever call the Father or Holy Spirit "manifestations" of God. On another

subject, the words "Bible," "canon," and "inerrancy" cannot be found in

Scripture, either: shall we then throw out these words, too, and the

doctrines they represent? Christians use such nonbiblical terms as "Trinity"

and "person" because they express the biblical truth about God in such a way

as to exclude unbiblical perversions of that truth. As Calvin explained

concerning Arius: "Arius says that Christ is God, but mutters that he was

made and had a beginning. He says that Christ is one with the Father, but

secretly whispers in the ears of his own partisans that He is united to the

Father like other believers, although by a singular privilege. Say

"consubstantial" and you will tear off the mask of this turncoat, and yet you

add nothing to Scripture."(37)

The other common objection to the Trinity is that it was not formulated until

the fourth century. It was supposedly imposed on the people by the Roman

Catholic church (by then quite apostate, we are told) through the political

agency of Constantine at the Council of Nicea in A.D.325. This argument is a

mix of historical truth and error. First of all, there was no "Roman Catholic

church," in the sense of a hierarchical church structure encompassing churches

over a wide area with the Roman bishop as the head, until the end of the sixth

century. Indeed, the Roman bishop did not even attend the Council of Nicea,

which was almost completely a Council of bishops from the Eastern churches.

Second, the doctrine of the Trinity as such originated long before

Constantine; all of the essential terms (three persons, one substance,

Trinity) were used by Tertullian well over a century before Nicea. Third,

although it is true that Constantine originally supported Athanasius (the

champion of trinitarianism) and deposed Arius, in A.D.332 he reversed himself

and supported Arius; for the next fifty years or so, Arianism was the ruling


Moreover, many doctrines which we now consider essential to Christian faith

came to us through an historical development similar to that of the Trinity.

The Bible does not list the books which belong in the canon; such a list was

not put together for the New Testament until the fourth century, in response

to heretics who were adding or subtracting books from Scripture. The Bible

never explicitly insists that it is inerrant in historical and scientific

matters. Inerrancy 'per se' was not explicitly formulated until the

nineteenth century in response to those who said the Bible was inspired but

contained errors.

Thus, doctrines that are taught or implied in Scripture become 'formulated'

(given formal structure and definition) in response to heresy.

The same is true of the doctrine of the Trinity, which was formulated to avoid

the errors of Arianism and modalism. Thus, far from being unbiblical, the

Trinity is a faithful expression of the biblical teaching concerning God, and

it has guarded the church from heresy for centuries. To throw out the

doctrine of the Trinity in favor of a modernized version of modalism betrays

an ignorance of church history, as well as a misunderstanding of Scripture.


We have seen that the Oneness doctrine of God is not faithful to the biblical

revelation of the Father and Son as two persons, and that the Oneness

rejection of the Trinity is in error. The question now must be asked how

serious an error this is, since theological errors vary in their harmfulness.

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.

This is far too simplistic, however. While it is true that adherence to the

two natures of Christ is critical to orthodoxy, and while most pseudo-

Christian sects do deny that Jesus is both fully God and fully man, simply

affirming the two natures is not enough. Indeed, it is possible to call Jesus

"God" and still have "another Jesus" (2 Cor.11:4), if in calling Him "God" one

means something significantly different from what the Bible means.

Such is the case with the Oneness understanding of the deity of Christ. When

Oneness believers say that Jesus is God, what they mean is that He is the

Father. That is not what the Bible means, as we have seen. Rather, when the

Bible says that Jesus is "God," it means that He exists eternally as a divine

person in relationship with the Father; or, to use the church's theological

shorthand, it means that He is the second person of the triune God.

The apostle John warns us, "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father;

the one who confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:23). Oneness

Pentecostals will not admit to denying the Son, of course; but that should

come as no surprise. It is doubtful that any heretic, including those about

whom John specifically warned, has ever admitted to denying the Son. Instead,

heretics of all kinds have simply redefined the meaning of the term "Son" (and

along with it the meaning of "Father"). Thus the Jehovah's Witnesses define

"Son" as "direct creation," while the Mormons claim that Jesus is the "Son" of

God by virtue of having been begotten through physical union between God and

Mary. The Oneness redefinition of "Son" as the human nature of Jesus (and

"Father" as His divine nature) may be less offensive than the Mormon version,

and less obvious than that of the Jehovah's Witnesses, but it is a

redefinition nonetheless. The fact is that the Son and the Father are two

persons, co-existing eternally in relationship with one another. To deny this

fact is to deny the biblical Son, and thus to have a false view of Jesus.

It turns out, then, that one's view of Christ cannot be separated

from one's view of the Trinity. Deny the Trinity, and you will lose

the biblical Christ; affirm the Christ of Scripture, the Christ who was

sent by the Father and who sent the Holy Spirit, and you will find that

your God is the Trinity. It is, in fact, the doctrine of the Trinity

that is the distinctive feature of the Christian revelation of the

nature of the true God. As Calvin expressed it: "For He so proclaims

Himself the sole God as to offer himself to be contemplated clearly in

three persons. Unless we grasp these, only the bare and empty name of

God flits about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God."(38)

Only the Christian God is triune, and consequently, to deny the trinity

is to say that, historically, Judaism and Islam have been right about

the being of God, while Christianity has been wrong. Oneness writers

have said as much.(39) Therefore, while there may be individual

Oneness believers who are saved, the Christian community has no choice

but to regard the Oneness movement as a whole as having departed from

the Christian faith.

We must conclude, then, that the Oneness teaching is a heresy, that it denies

a fundamental, basic belief of biblical Christianity, and that those churches

and denominations which teach this heresy are actually pseudo- Christian

sects. In popular Evangelical terminology, such a heretical sect is known as

a "cult," a term which simply means that the group's beliefs are in some

important respect non-Christian.

In this sense, we regretfully conclude that the Oneness churches are indeed

cults, and we urge Christians to reach out to Oneness believers in love and

share with them the triune God revealed in the Scriptures.



l. On the history of Oneness Pentecostalism, see David Arthur Reed, "Origins

and Development of the Theology of Oneness Pentecostalism in the United

States," Ph.D. diss. (Boston, MA: Boston University Graduate School, 1978);

and Oneness writer Frank J. Ewart, "The Phenomenon of Pentecost" (Houston:

Herald Publishing House, 1947; rev.ed., Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press,

1975). Word Aflame Press (hereafter WAP) and Pentecostal Publishing House

(hereafter PPH), both located in Hazelwood, are the official publishing houses

of the United Pentecostal Church, the largest Oneness denomination in the

world. Due to the brevity of this article, our analysis of Oneness

Pentecostalism is largely restricted to the UPC.

2. David B. Barrett (ed.), "World Christian Encyclopedia" (New York: Oxford

University Press, 1982), p.837.

3. David K. Bernard, "The Oneness of God" (WAP, 1983), pp.321-322. This book

is probably the best and most complete defense of the Oneness doctrine of God

in print.

4. Bernard, op.cit., pp.257-258,287; Kenneth V. Reeves, "The Godhead"

(Revised), 6th ed. (WAP, 1962), pp.26-28; John Paterson, "God in Christ Jesus"

(WAP. 1966), p.40.

5. Bernard, op.cit., pp.142-143,288.

6. Reeves, op.cit., pp.24-26.

7. Philip Schaff, "The Creeds of Christendom" (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book

House, 1983 reprint), Vol.III, pp.607-608.

8. Schaff, op.cit., Vol.II, p.67. An excellent line-by-line discussion of

the creed is found in "Creeds, Councils and Christ," by Gerald Bray (Downers

Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), pp.175-191.

9. Bernard, op.cit., pp.257-260; Reeves, op.cit., p.9.

10. See Bray, op.cit., pp.78-79,146-171.

ll. Bray, op.cit., p.78.

12. Paterson, op.cit., p.12.

13. Albert Barnes, "Notes on the Old Testament Explanatory and Practical:

Isaiah," Vol.I (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1950 reprint), p.193.

14. Benjamin Davidson, "The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon" (Peabody,

MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1981 reprint), pp.1-2.

15. For example, see R.C.H. Lenski, "The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel"

(Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), pp.759-761.

16. David Campbell, "All the Fullness" (WAP, 1975), p.43; John Paterson, "The

Real Truth About Baptism in Jesus' Name" (PPH, 1953), p.16; Bernard, op.cit.,


17. F.F. Bruce, "The Gospel of John" (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans

Publishing Co., 1983), p.138.

18. Bernard, op.cit., pp.42-44.

19. (Pasadena, TX: Gordon Magee, n.d.).

20. Reed, op.cit., pp.97-103; Ewart, op.cit., (WAP ed.), pp.105-109.

21. Paterson, "The Real Truth," p.12.

22. The Corinthian Christians were predominantly Jews and God-fearing Greeks

from the synagogue (Acts 18:1-8; cf. I Cor.1:13).

23. F.F. Bruce, "The Spreading Flame" (Exeter, England: Paternoster Press,

1958), pp.240-241.

24. Space does not permit a discussion of the distinct personhood of the Holy

Spirit. However, it is safe to say that, once persuaded of the fact that the

Father and Son are two persons of an indivisible God, most will concede the

truth of the Trinity. This writer has never yet encountered a "binarian."

25. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, "A Greek-English Lexicon of the

New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature" (Chicago: University of

Chicago Press, 1957), p.39.

26. Bernard, op.cit., p.184; Magee, op.cit., p.24.

27. Bernard, op.cit., p.186. 28. Bernard, op.cit., p.177.

29. Notably Adam Clarke; see David Campbell, "The Eternal Sonship" ("A

Refutation According to Adam Clarke")(WAP, 1978). Walter Martin also rejects

the eternal Sonship doctrine, while insisting on the eternal preexistence of

the Word (Logos): see "The Kingdom of the Cults" (Minneapolis: Bethany House

Publishers, 1985), pp.115-117.

30. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., "A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion"

(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), Vol.I, pp.111-112.

31. Bernard, op.cit., pp.50,159-160; Magee, op.cit., p.23.

32. Bernard, op.cit., p.116.

33. Alan F. Johnson, "Revelation," in "The Expositors's Bible Commentary,"

edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, Vol.12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing

House, 1981), p.528.

34. Bernard, op.cit., pp.61,188.

35. In John 1:1 we have 'pros ton theon', "with God," whereas in Hebrews 2:17

and 5:1 we have 'ta pros ton theon', "the things {'ta'} having to do with

God." The use of the neuter plural article 'ta' changes the meaning of


36. Arndt and Gingrich, op.cit., p.615.

37. "Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion," edited by John T.

McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles; Library of Christian Classics

(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), Vol.I, p.127 (I.xiii.5).

38. Calvin, op.cit., p.122 (I.xiii.2).

39. Bernard, op.cit., pp.17,19,244,299,319; Reeves, op.cit., p.23.

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