By David Bernard
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
Start With the Scriptures
- Deuteronomy 6:1-9
- John 14:1-31
- John 1:1-14
The biblical message of the mighty God in Jesus Christ is perhaps the greatest distinctive of the United Pentecostal Church International, distinguishing it from Trinitarian Christianity, including Trinitarian Pentecostals. This doctrine, commonly known as Oneness, can be defined by two affirmations: (1) There is one God with no distinction of persons; (2) Jesus Christ is all the fullness of the Godhead incarnate. In other words, all titles of the Deity apply to Jesus, and all aspects of the divine personality are manifested in Him.
The basis of this biblical doctrine is an uncompromising belief in one God, which is known as monotheism. Simply stated, God is absolutely and indivisibly one. There are no essential distinctions or divisions in His eternal nature. All the names and titles of the Deity, such as God, Jehovah (LORD), Lord, Father, Word, and Holy Spirit refer to one and the same being. Any plurality associated with God is only a plurality of attributes, titles, roles, manifestations, modes of activity, or relationships to humanity.
This is the historic position of Judaism. Both Oneness and Jewish believers find the classic expression of this belief in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” In subsequent verses, God underscored the importance of this truth by commanding His people to teach it to their children when sitting, walking, lying down, and rising up—in other words, continually. Jesus also emphasized the importance of this teaching, calling it “the first of all the commandments” (Mark 12:29).
Many other biblical passages affirm strict monotheism and exclude any plurality in the Deity. For example:
- “Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour” (Isaiah 43:10-11).
- “There is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me” (Isaiah 45:21).
- “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:9).
- “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
- “There is none other God but one. . . . But to us there is but one God, the Father” (I Corinthians 8:4, 6).
- “God is one” (Galatians 3:20).
- “For there is one God” (I Timothy 2:5).
- “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19).
Trinitarians sometimes explain that the Old Testament monotheistic passages merely speak of perfect agreement and unity among the trinity, excluding a plurality of false deities but not a plurality of persons in the true God. This view would allow outright polytheism, however, for many distinct deities could exist in perfect harmony.
Neither testament uses the word trinity or associates the word three or the word persons with God in any significant way, but over fifty times the Bible calls God the Holy One. The only New Testament passage to use the word person in relation to God is Hebrews 1:3. It says the Son is the image of God’s own person (literally “substance”), not a separate person. The only passage to use the word three in relation to God is I John 5:7 (KJV), which speaks of three ways in which God has revealed Himself—as Father, Word, and Spirit. It does not imply a plurality of persons any more than when we speak of a man, his word, and his spirit and it concludes by saying, “These three are one.”
The Absolute Deity of Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the one God. “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:9-10). Jesus is not the incarnation of one person of a trinity, but the incarnation of all the character, quality, and personality of the one God.
Jesus is God in the Old Testament sense; that is what New Testament writers meant when they called Jesus God. The one and only God of the Old Testament incarnated Himself as Jesus Christ. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (II Corinthians 5:19). Thomas confessed Jesus as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus is God with us, the eternally blessed God, the image of the invisible God, God manifest in flesh, our God and Savior, and the express image of God’s substance. See Matthew 1:23; Romans 9:5; II Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15; I Timothy 3:16; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:3; II Peter 1:1.)
All names and titles of God apply to Jesus.
Jesus is Jehovah. The New Testament applies to Jesus’ many Old Testament statements concerning Jehovah. For example, in Isaiah 45:23 Jehovah said, “Unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear,” but in Romans 14:10-11 and Philippians 2:10-11 Paul applied this prophecy to Christ. Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), referring to the name “I AM” that Jehovah had used for Himself in Exodus 3:14. The Old Testament describes Jehovah as the Almighty, only Savior, Lord of lords, First and Last, only Creator, Holy One, Redeemer, Judge, Shepherd, and Light; yet the New Testament gives all these titles to Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the Father incarnate. “His name shall be called . . . The mighty God, The everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:6). “Thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer” (Isaiah 63:16). “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). “The Father is in me, and I in him” (John 10:38). “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus is the father of over-comers (Revelation 21:6-7). The Bible attributes many works both to the Father and to Jesus: resurrecting Christ’s body, sending the Comforter, drawing men to God, answering prayer, sanctifying believers, and resurrecting the dead.
The Holy Spirit is literally the Spirit that was in Jesus Christ. “The Spirit of truth . . . dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:17-18). “The Lord is that Spirit” (II Corinthians 3:17). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Son and the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:19). The New Testament ascribes the following works both to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit: moving on prophets of old, resurrection of Christ’s body, work as the Comforter (advocate), giving words to believers in time of persecution, intercession, sanctification, and indwelling of believers.
Finally, Jesus is the One on the throne in heaven, as we see by comparing the description of Jesus in Revelation 1 with that of the One on the throne in Revelation 4 and by noting that “God and the Lamb” is one being in Revelation 22:3-4. Trinitarians are often unsure whether they will see one divine being or three divine beings in heaven, but any notion of three visible beings is tritheism (belief in three gods).
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
The Bible certainly speaks of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but not as three distinct persons. The one God is the Father of all creation, Father of the only begotten Son, and Father of the born-again believer. (See Deuteronomy 32:6; Malachi 2:10.) The title of Son refers to God’s incarnation, for the man Christ was literally conceived by the Spirit of God (Matthew 1:18-20; Luke 1:35). The title of Holy Spirit describes the fundamental character of God’s nature. Holiness forms the basis of His moral attributes, while spirituality forms the basis of His non-moral attributes. The title specifically refers to God in activity. (See Genesis 1:2.) It particularly speaks of God as He anoints, regenerates, and dwells in humans.
Thus, the titles of Father, Son, and Spirit describe God’s multiple roles and works, but they do not reflect an essential threeness in God’s nature, and all apply simultaneously to Jesus. The terms can also be understood in God’s revelation to humanity: Father refers to God in family relationship to humanity; Son refers to God in flesh; and Spirit refers to God in activity. For example, one man can have three significant relationships or functions—such as administrator, teacher, and counselor—and yet be one person in every sense of the word. God is not defined by or limited to an essential threeness.
The Bible identifies the Father and the Holy Spirit as one and the same being. The title of Holy Spirit simply describes what the Father is. God is an invisible Spirit (John 4:24). The Holy Spirit is literally the Father of Jesus, since Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18, 20). The Bible calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Jehovah, the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of the Father (Matthew 10:20). The Bible attributes many works of the Father to the Spirit as well, such as resurrecting Christ and indwelling, comforting, sanctifying, and resurrecting believers.
In order to understand the concept of Oneness more fully, let us examine some scriptural passages often cited in support of trinitarianism.
The baptism of Christ did not introduce to the devout Jewish onlookers a radical, innovative doctrine of plurality in the Godhead, but it signified the authoritative anointing of Jesus as the Messiah. The dove was a sign for John, and the voice was a sign for the people. A correct understanding of God’s omnipresence and omnipotence dispels any notion that the heavenly voice and dove require separate persons.
Christ’s description of the Holy Ghost as “another Comforter” in John 14 indicates a difference of form or relationship, that is, Christ in Spirit rather than in flesh.
The New Testament speaks of Jesus as being at the right hand of God. This phrase does not denote a physical positioning of two beings with two bodies, for God is a Spirit and does not have a physical body outside of Jesus Christ. This view would be indistinguishable from belief in two gods. Rather, the phrase is an idiomatic expression from the Old Testament denoting that Christ possesses all the power, authority, and pre-eminence of God and describing His present mediatorial role because of the Cross.
Similarly, the vision of the One on the throne and the Lamb in Revelation 5 is symbolic only. The One on the throne represents all the Deity, while the Lamb represents the Son in His human, sacrificial role.
As we have seen, the Son is the manifestation of the one God in flesh. The title of Son can refer to the human nature of Christ alone (as in “the Son died”) or to the union of deity and humanity (as in “the Son shall return to earth in glory”). It is never used apart from God’s incarnation, however; it never refers to deity alone. The phrases “God the Son” and “eternal Son” are non-biblical. The Son was begotten by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The following verses show that the Son had a beginning:
- “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
- “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Galatians 4:4).
- “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. . . . I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son” (Hebrews 1:5).
One day the distinctive role of the Son will end, when the redemptive purpose for which God manifested Himself in flesh is fulfilled. God will continue to reveal Himself through the immortal, glorified human body of Christ, but the mediatorial work and reign of the Son will end. The role of the Son will be submerged back into the greatness of God, who will remain in His original role as Father, Creator, and Lord of all. “Then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:28).
Not only must we acknowledge the one true God of the Old Testament—the Father and Creator—but we must also acknowledge His revelation in flesh, as Jesus Christ. Salvation does not come to us simply because God is Spirit, but specifically through the atoning death of the man Christ Jesus. That is why John 17:3 says that to be saved we must not only know the one true God but also Jesus Christ, whom He sent. This concept also explains the typical greeting in Paul’s epistles: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7). Likewise, I Timothy 2:5 says there is “one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” A second divine person is not our mediator; the Man who became a sacrifice for our sins is our mediator with God.
Jesus is both God and man at the same time. This truth explains the plural references to Father and Son in the Gospels. As Father, Jesus sometimes acted and spoke from His divine self-consciousness; as Son He sometimes acted and spoke from His human self-consciousness. For example, as a man He was tempted, hungered, thirsted, grew weary, suffered, and died. But as God He forgave sin, performed creative miracles, and took authority over disease, demons, and death.
The prayers of Christ demonstrate the struggle of the human will as it submitted to the divine will. Jesus prayed from His human self-consciousness, not as a second divine person, for by definition God does not need to pray. Speaking of His humanity, Jesus frequently stated that the Son was inferior to the Father in power, authority, and knowledge. If these examples demonstrated a plurality of persons, they would establish the subordination of one person to the other, contrary to the trinitarian doctrine of co-equality.
According to Hebrews 1:2, God made the worlds by the Son. Certainly, the Spirit of God who dwelt in the Son was the Creator. Moreover, God based the entire work of creation upon the future manifestation of the Son. God foreknew that humans would sin, but He also foreknew that through the Son they could be saved and could fulfill His original purpose in creation. Though God did not pick up the humanity until the fullness of time, He acted upon it from all eternity. The Lamb was “foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times” (I Peter 1:19-20). Jesus did not pre-exist the Incarnation as an eternal Son but as the eternal Spirit of God.
The Word in John 1 is not equivalent to the title of Son, for the latter is limited to the Incarnation while the former is not. The Word is God’s self-revelation, self-expression, or self-disclosure. Before the Incarnation, the Word was the unexpressed thought, plan, or mind of God. In the beginning, the Word was with God, not as a separate person but as God Himself—pertaining to and belonging to God much like a man and his word. In the fullness of time God put flesh on the Word; He revealed Himself in flesh.
The Name of Jesus
Both testaments place strong emphasis on the doctrine of the name of God. For people in biblical times, a name was an extension of an individual’s personality. Specifically, the name of God represents the revelation of His presence, character, power, and authority. In the Old Testament, Jehovah was the redemptive name of God and the unique name by which He distinguished Himself from false gods. In the New Testament, however, God accompanied the revelation of Himself in flesh with a new name. That name is Jesus, which includes and supersedes Jehovah, since it literally means Jehovah-Savior or Jehovah is Salvation. Although others have borne the name Jesus, the Lord Jesus Christ is the only one who is actually what that name describes.
Jesus is the redemptive name of God in the New Testament. It carries the power and authority needed by the church, as shown by the following passages of Scripture:
- “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14).
- “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
- “Through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).
- “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (Philippians 2:9-10).
- “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).
The early church prayed, preached, taught, healed the sick, performed miracles, cast out unclean spirits, and baptized in the name of Jesus. The name of Jesus is not a magical formula; it is effective only through faith in Jesus and a relationship with Him. Nevertheless, the Christian should actually use the spoken name Jesus in prayer and baptism as an outward expression of faith in Jesus and in obedience to God’s Word.
In contrast to trinitarianism, Oneness asserts that (1) God is indivisibly one in number with no distinction of persons; (2) Jesus is the absolute fullness of the Godhead in flesh; He is God, Jehovah, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; (3) the Son of God was begotten after the flesh and did not exist from eternity past—the term only refers to God’s incarnation in Christ; (4) the Word is not a separate person, but the mind, thought, plan, or expression of the Father; (5) Jesus is the revealed name of God in the New Testament and represents salvation, power, and authority from God; (6) water baptism should be administered by orally invoking the name Jesus as part of the baptismal formula; and (7) believers will definitely see only one divine being in heaven: Jesus Christ.
Test Your Knowledge
- What Old Testament passage proclaims, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD”?
- Is Jesus in the Godhead, or is the Godhead in Jesus? Explain.
- Explain what the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost mean.
- Explain the distinction between the Father and the Son and give scriptural examples.
- Define the Oneness doctrine.
- Cite three scriptural references that declare Jesus to be the one God incarnate.
Apply Your Knowledge
The Oneness doctrine is important because it upholds biblical Christianity in at least three specific ways: (1) It restores biblical terms and patterns of thought on the subject of the Godhead, clearly establishing New Testament Christianity as the spiritual heir of Old Testament Judaism. (2) It upholds the absolute deity of Jesus Christ, revealing His true identity. (3) It places biblical emphasis on the name of Jesus, making the power of His name available to the believer.
Not only must we know and believe this truth, but in view of its crucial significance, we must propagate it everywhere. The church has the responsibility to teach this message from the pulpit, in the Sunday school, and through Bible studies. Each believer also has the responsibility to share it with others. And parents have a particular responsibility to teach it to their children.
In short, the message of the mighty God in Jesus Christ is vital to restoring biblical belief and apostolic power.
Expand Your Knowledge
For further study, see the following Word Aflame Press books:
- The Oneness of God by David Bernard
- The God of Two Testaments by Robert Graves
- Is Jesus in the Godhead or Is the Godhead in Jesus? by Gordon Magee
- God in Christ Jesus by John Paterson
This article “The Mighty God in Christ” was excerpted from Meet the United Pentecostal Church International written by David Bernard, C. A. Brewer, P. D. Buford, Dan Butler, Gary Erickson, J. L. Hall, T. M. Jackson, Edwin Judd, Ralph Reynolds and Dan Segraves. It may be used for study & research purposes only.