"The Error of the JESUS ONLY Doctrine"
by Jimmy Swaggart
Here again we have a body of believers who are good, upstanding, well-
motivated people. It might well be asked, "If they are Christians and want to
do what's right, how can they go so far wrong in their doctrine?" The answer,
of course, is that even the best motivated of hearts can stumble when the head
leads it down an errant path. I believe their motivation is right, while
their performance is in error. Should we chance divisiveness by discussing the
doctrinal misconceptions they promote? While I shun argument for the sake of
argument, I feel in this case we should. This is not a simple matter of "to
each his own." The Word of God is given to us to be our staff against the
world, our strength, and our guide to proper doctrine. The Word tells us to
rightly divide the Word (II Timothy 3:16).
God gave us His Word so we could, through study and application, develop
sound doctrine. Admittedly, all fall short of complete knowledge of God's
intent for us in this day. I believe God deliberately left some fine points
obscured so we would\have\to study His Word as an ongoing and perpetual
component of our Christian life. I do feel, however, that there is a
difference between freedom to search out God's meaning from His Word, and
license to promote doctrines which are barely suggested within the Word.
The "New Issue" erupted within the Pentecostal movement about 1914.
While it started as a friendly debate over the question of the correct method
for water baptism, it quickly developed into a fierce controversy over the
nature of the Godhead. The argument in those early days was basically over
the effort to reconcile the words of the Lord in Matthew 28:19 and Peter's
words in Acts 2:38. Suddenly the thing exploded. Those who practiced baptism
in the name of Jesus Christ (Jesus Only) claimed a special revelation from the
Lord which would result in the correct manner of water baptism. And, you
might ask, what was this tremendous, tradition-defying revelation?
In effect it was this: Peter introduced the new baptismal method at
Pentecost because, supposedly, the Holy Ghost had revealed unto him that the
name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is Jesus Christ. In
other words, their "revelation" was that there is only one person in the
Godhead and that is Jesus Christ. They also vehemently opposed the doctrine
of the Trinity, claiming it was of human origin.
The argument became more heated, the controversy more explosive, and the
split grew wider.
1. THREE GODS OR ONE?
We teach there is one God manifest in three persons: God the Father, God
the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Jesus Only people teach that Christ is
the Father, He is the Son and He is the Holy Ghost. Hence the name, Jesus
Only. I believe we can provide proper evidence from the Word of God that this
is not the case and that the teaching advanced by these people is erroneous
and does not accord proper due and honor to the Godhead.
The Scripture does state there is one God. But the word "one" relates to
unity as well as number. I John 5:7 clearly means one in unity, as does St.
John 17:11-21. And yet there are three distinct persons: the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Ghost. The three are spoken of as one in number and yet
treated individually in Scripture. There is one God the Father, one Lord
Jesus Christ, and one Holy Ghost (I Corinthians 8:6; Ehpesians 4:3-6). Thus
there are three separate persons in divine individuality and divine plurality.
The Father is called God (I Corinthians 8:6), the Son is called God (Isaiah
9:6-7; Hebrews 1:8; John 1:1-2) and the Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3-
4). Individually, each is called God; collectively, they can be spoken of as
one God because of their perfect unity. The word "God" can be used either in
the singular or in the plural, like sheep. Everything that could pertain to
God collectively could also apply equally to each member of the Godhead as
individuals. However, there are some particulars which relate to each
individual person of the deity as to position, office, and work that could not
be attributed to either of the other members of the Godhead. For instance,
the Father is the head of Christ (I Corinthians 11:3). The Son is the only
begotten of the Father (II John 1:3). The Holy Ghost proceeds from both the
Father and the Son (John 14:16; Acts 2:3-4).
The names of God prove plurality of persons. The Hebrew word Elohim,
translated "God" in Genesis 1:1 and also in more than 2,700 other places in
the Old Testament, is a uniplural noun which means "more than one." Had the
sacred writer been led to use the singular El, then there would have been no
indication of a divine plurality. But in this initial reference to God, he
was led of the Holy Ghost to pen the Word Elohim (Genesis 1:1). Also when one
considers that the word Elohim is used about ten to one over the word El, we
would have to conclude that this preference for the plural over the singular
indicates a definite sign of plurality in the Godhead.
PLURALITY IN SCRIPTURES
Genesis 3:22, where it says, "the man has become as one of us," proves
plurality of persons by the use of the pronoun "us." Two Lords are mentioned
in Genesis 19:24--one on earth and one in heaven. Two Lords sit side by side
in Psalms 110:1-5, in Matthew 22:44, and in Acts 2:33-34, 36. Two and three
Persons are mentioned in the introductions to many New Testament books:
Romans, James, I Corinthians, I Peter, to name a few.
JESUS IS NOT THE FATHER
Only one Scripture in the Word of God states that Jesus is the Father.
This is found in Isaiah, chapter 9, and it is a Hebrew idiom concerning the
terminology of the Jews. And we know from the Word of God that while Jesus
was on earth the Father was in heaven (Matthew 5:16-48). We also know (from
Scripture) that Christ now sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus said
He would confess men before His Father which was in heaven, proving He (Jesus)
is not Himself the Father (Matthew 10:32; Revelation 3:5). Jesus always
prayed to the Father as a separate person (Matthew 11:25). Both Jesus and
Satan refer to God apart from Jesus (Matthew 4:6-10). Jesus was the only
begotten Son of the Father. Hence, Jesus could not be the Father, nor could
He beget Himself (John 1:14). Over 80 times in the Word f God Jesus affirmed
that He was not the Father, nor was He the only person in the Godhead.
Admittedly, we do not understand everything about the Trinity. However,
it does become somewhat less confusing and mysterious if we don't try to force
two or more separate Persons into becoming only one Person, simply because we
choose not to recognize that the true meaning of the word "one" actually
refers to unity. So what we have is, only one Scripture (easily explained) in
the Old Testament stating that Jesus is the Father, and so very, very many
confirming that He is not the Father.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS NOT JESUS OR THE FATHER
The Holy Spirit is another and He is from both the Father and the Son
(John 5:32). So that the Holy Spirit could come, it was necessary that Jesus
go away (John 16:5-15). Even then, though, He could not be sent from God
until Christ was glorified. But at that time He would be sent from both the
Father and the Son (John 7:37-39). The Holy Spirit was sent from the Father
to endue Jesus with power. This clearly requires three persons--the One who
sent Him, and the One being sent, and the One who received Him!
A clear distinction is made between the Son who prays, the Father to whom
He prays, and the Holy Spirit for whom (which) He prays (John 14:16).
The descent of the Holy Spirit acknowledged the arrival of Jesus in
heaven to sit at the right hand of God, thus proving three separate and
distinct persons (Acts 2:33-34; John 7:39).
So, what do we have? Jesus is God; the Holy Ghost is God; the Father is
God. But Jesus is not the Holy Spirit; Jesus is not the Father. And neither
is the Father the Lord Jesus Christ; nor is the Father the Holy Spirit.
The scriptural passages which provide the basis for the Trinitarian
doctrine cannot be reconciled to the Jesus Only position without totally
disregarding the meaning of language and without totally ignoring many
contrary Scriptures. On the other hand, the favorite Jesus Only passages can
be reconciled without strain or contradiction to the Trinitarian position.
2. THE FORMULA FOR WATER BAPTISM (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38)
The Trinitarians baptize according to Matthew 28:19, using the words of
the Lord Jesus Christ where He said that we should baptize in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. We do this for many reasons,
and I will go into many of the details concerning the differences between the
two baptismal formulas.
The Jesus Only people affirm that the Matthew 28:19 method is not once
found in the book of Acts and was unknown in the early church, but was
introduced centuries later by apostates in total disregard of apostolic
practice. Trinitarians are, therefore, admonished to conform to the
scriptural pattern and to follow the example of those who had the true
"revelation" of the name.
The Jesus Only people claim that the words Father and Son do not
constitute names. We maintain they do. We believe that Matthew 28:19
definitely confirms that "Father" is a name, that "Son" is a name, that "Holy
Ghost" is a name, simply because we are not generalizing just any father or
just any son. We are talking about God the Father, and God the Son; and most
anyone in Christendom today would readily recognize and know Who is being
In Isaiah 9:6 the Bible says His name shall be called Wonderful,
Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Each
one of these appellations would be labeled a title by Jesus Only interpreters,
but Isaiah's text calls each one a name. This is also the one verse of
Scripture in the entirety of God's Word where Jesus Christ is called the
Father; and still, somehow, these people are blinded to the fact that the
verse actually disproves their theory concerning titles and names, simply
because it gives the name of "Father" to Jesus.
So I simply ask a question. According to Isaiah, isn't "Wonderful" a
name? Isn't "Prince of Peace" a name? Isaiah uses five different names here
and yet, under divine inspiration, he specifically chose the singular when he
said, "And His name shall be called...." So what more needs to be said in
answer to this strange insistence that if "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" are
names (plural), then Matthew 28:19 should read in the names of? The writers,
under divine inspiraton, used the singular instead of the plural. They did it
for a divine reason.
THE BOOK OF ACTS AND THE BAPTISMAL FORMULA
There is not a single incident in the book of Acts where any particular
baptismal method is given. There is no record of the dialogue of the baptizer
while standing in the water with the convert. You can look in vain for any
Scripture which would state, "I baptize thee in the name of Jesus Christ" (or
any other variation of the precious name of our Lord). If one could produce
such an explicit procedure, I would be thrilled to admit that we have a
scriptural right to baptize thus, but it cannot be produced. It doesn't
This immeasurably weakens the Jesus Only position. They have read into
the record that which is not there. They have taken the words of Peter,
assumed that they were the properly expressed formula, and placed them onto
the lips of those who baptized in water--without a shred of evidence to
support their action. The Jesus Only proponents claim that Acts 2:38 is the
baptismal formula. And yet Acts 8:16 and Acts 19:5 simply state they were
baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And if you will notice, in these two
latter verses the word "Christ" was omitted altogther.
If Peter, on the day of Pentecost, received a baptism "revelation" which
the Jesus Only proponents claim is "in the name of Jesus Christ," why, we ask,
is this later variation produced? You see, there is no fixed wording to
follow, and there is no regular or prescribed usage of certain words. So the
question has to be asked, should we baptize in the name of Jesus Christ, or in
Christ Jesus, or in the Lord, or in the Lord Jesus, or in the Lord Jesus
Christ? Which would be correct? Was Peter right? Or Philip? Or Paul?
Jesus Only exponents say they are sticklers (fanatics) for the exact
words of Scripture, and that they use the identical words of the apostles; yet
their demands are not accompanied by quotations from God's Word of the words
themselves. Even in those passages where their purported words are found,
their full formula is lacking. One of their chief proponents some years ago
stated that the following formula should be used: "I baptize you in the name
of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the name of the Father, and of the Son, and
of the Holy Ghost." When this particular brother was asked to cite chapter
and verse for this formula, he was speechless. Apparently it had not ever
occurred to him that the formula he had conjured up had no scriptural
So the question still must be asked. Which is the right way to baptize
and what was the meaning of Peter's or Paul's words in the book of Acts?
There is no way one can take the passages in the book of Acts to be
intended as a baptismal formula. The words should be regarded as a
compendious description of the entire rite. In Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, and
19:15, the details of the baptismal ceremony are not set forth. What is set
forth is a condensed, brief, abridged reference to the sacred experience. The
words describe the sphere, the foundation or ground of baptism, rather than
the prescribed words of the formula.
Every Trinitarian using the Matthew 28:19 formula refers to water baptism
as "Christian baptism" and this is as it should be, for Christ is assuredly
the central figure in water baptism. Jesus Christ is the One who died and
rose again; not the Father and not the Holy Ghost. It is into His death that
we are symbolically buried, and in the likeness of His resurrection we are
raised to walk in newness of life; therefore, belief in, and confession of,
the Lord Jesus Christ, is a central part of our baptismal ceremony.
THIS IS THE REASON WE ACCEPT THE MATTHEW 28:19 BAPTISMAL FORMULA
A. Both the minister and the believer render obedience to the Master's
own explicit command whenever the words are used, "in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
B. Matthew 28:19 fits the definition of a formula. It is an orderly
statement of faith or doctrine. It is the prescribed words of a ceremony or
rite. The words of the Lord Himself are all contained in one concise
declaration. It is not necessary, as in the Jesus Only formula, to combine it
with other Scriptures in order to get the complete name. It is complete
C. Matthew 28:19 incorporates an orderly statement of faith. It
summarizes the scattered and unsystemized thought and language of the entire
New Testament concerning the nature of the Godhead. He who spoke these words
desired their use as the formula, for they were purposely designed to set
forth the doctrine of the Trinity in this initiatory Christian rite. The
Master's own baptism by John was a vivid precedent for associating the Trinity
with baptism. Jesus was there in person. God spoke from heaven and the Holy
Spirit descended like a dove upon Him.
D. Matthew 28:19 is the only command in the entire Bible given
specifically to those performing the rite of baptism. If you will examine all
the passages in Acts dealing with baptism, you will discover that the commands
there are to the believers themselves and not to the baptizer, or the
minister. Matthew 28:19 is a direct order to those who administer the
ordinance informing them to baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
E. It is unthinkable that the disciples disobeyed the express command of
their Lord. The only logical and scriptural conclusion is that the apostles
and other leaders not only obeyed His command to baptize but also obeyed His
command to "baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
F. The Matthew 28:19 baptismal formula is abundantly confirmed by the
earliest Christian writings while the Jesus Only formula has no historical
support at all. Justin's first apology was written in A.D. 153 about ninety
years after the death of Peter and Paul. It was about sixty years after the
death of John the apostle. Justin was a contemporary of Polycarp, who was a
disciple of John himself, and he stated that Matthew 28:19 was the correct
There is another book called The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles and it
is the oldest book outside the New Testament. It is also known as the Didache
and is dated by most authorities between the years A.D. 70 and 100. Although
the author of the book is unknown, it is a compilation of the teachings of the
apostles which he had apparently learned either by personal instruction, oral
tradition, or through their (the apostles') own writings or other New
Testament writings then in circulation. While it does not possess the
inspiration of the Scriptures, the Didache is an authentic record of primitive
Christianity. It includes as instructions for baptizing that we ought to
baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and
also that we ought to baptize in running or living water. There again, the
Matthew 28:19 formula is used. And, lest we forget, I would remind you that
there is not a single recorded incident in the Bible or any other genuine
first-century book where any other formula was ever used in the first one
hundred years of the Christian era.
G. Matthew 28:19 can be used as the formula and the baptism still be in
the name of Jesus Christ because the Son is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the
sphere, the foundation, and the ground for Trinitarian baptism. Belief in,
and confession of, Christ is the very heart of our baptism. Consequently, the
words spoken by most ministers of the Gospel, baptizing according th Matthew
28:19, follow this pattern: "On the confession of your faith in the Lord
Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Ghost."
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