The Unity of God
By: J.L. Hall
Did Jesus pray to himself?
Jesus’ prayers open our understanding to the majesty of the Incarnation, for through them we grasp the divine-human relationship between God and His Son.
Trinitarians often refer to the statements Jesus made about His rather, including those in His prayers, in an effort to prove that two persons were involved-whom they identify as God the Son and God the Father. Since they reason that only persons and not natures communicate with each other, they regard the prayers as clear evidence that Jesus is a separate person from the Father. Moreover, they cite Jesus’ remarks about the rather as scriptural support for the trinitarian theory. But the prayers and remarks by Jesus destroy any concept of God as being a trinity of co-equal, co-eternal, and coexistent persons.
The Bible clearly distinguishes God the Father from His Son. The Son was born in Bethlehem, but the eternal God does not know a beginning. The Son grew into maturity, physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. He became tired, hungry, weary, sleepy-just as other men. Although He did not commit sin, He was tempted in all points as other men are tempted. He suffered from the trials in Jerusalem and died on the cross-just as the two thieves also died. God does not grow, nor can He die. These facts alone clearly distinguish the Son from the Father.
The Bible tells us that the man Christ Jesus is the mediator between God and men (II Timothy 2:5). God is one, but a mediator serves more than one-He stood between God and mankind, effecting reconciliation. Only as a man could Jesus be our sacrifice, mediator, advocate, and high priest, acting on our behalf for our justification.
Jesus offered Himself as a spotless lamb to God. Having lived as a human being, He offered the blood from His own body as the basis for our forgiveness of sins. God did not die on the cross, nor did a divine eternal person offer blood from a divine eternal body. As the Son of God Jesus offered His own human body and His own earthly blood to God.
The distinction between God and His Son can also be seen in the events after the crucifixion. God raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9; Ephesians 1:20), gave Him all power in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18), made Him Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), and exalted His name to be above every name in heaven, on earth, and beneath the earth (Philippians 2:9). If the Son had been a co-equal person in the Godhead, this exaltation would not have been possible, for He would have had these positions and attributes from eternity. It is evident, therefore, that the Son of God was not a second divine person in the Godhead.
Biblical facts reveal that Jesus lived as an authentic human being, that He did not merely assume the appearance of flesh. Therefore we should not be surprised that He prayed to God, seeking strength, guidance, and assurance. Moreover, we should not be surprised that Jesus had a will distinct from God, that He was truly human in spirit and soul, that He possessed a self-awareness of His humanity.
We are not to suppose, however, that the human Jesus was not different from other people, for only He was born by the Holy Ghost. God was His immediate Father. He is rightfully called the “only begotten of the Father:’ His miraculous birth meant that His humanity was not tainted with the inherited sinful nature of the Fall, and through Him God could reveal Himself to us in redemptive love.
Jesus’ prayers to God the Father came from His human life, from the Incarnation. His prayers were not those of one divine person of God praying to another divine person of God, but those of an authentic human praying to the one true God. Prayer is based on an inferior person praying to a superior being. If the one praying is equal in power and authority to the one to whom he is praying, there is no genuine prayer. A conversation can be held between equals, but an omnipotent person does not need to pray for help from an equal. Even intercessory prayers are meaningless unless the one praying is inferior to the one to whom he prays. If he were of equal power, knowledge, and wisdom, he could take care of the needs of those for whom he prays without asking help from another. If Jesus prayed as “God the Son;’ then “God the Son” is inferior to God the Father. But such an inferiority destroys the trinitarian theory.
In submitting His will to the Father, Jesus confessed that His will was inferior: “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). He also stated that He did not seek His own will, but the will of the Father (John 5:30). If the Son had been an eternal divine person sharing equal power, knowledge, and wisdom with the other two persons in the trinity, His will could not have been inferior to theirs.
Jesus also stated that the Father was greater than He was: “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). It is absurd to say that this statement was made by a co-equal, eternal person in a trinity. Jesus was not speaking as God but as the Son of God. Moreover, Jesus said, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19). He credits the Father as the source of His works, the power to give life, and the authority to execute judgment (John 5:19-30). If the Son were an equal person in a trinity, He would have these abilities innately within Himself; He could not derive them from the Father.
But we should not suppose that His humanity detracted from His deity. Jesus was not the incarnation of one person of a trinity, but He was the incarnation of the fullness of God-everything that God is was in Him. Thus the Bible says that “God was manifest in flesh” (I Timothy 3:16) and that “in him (Jesus) dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). As God incarnate, He identified Himself as the Father: “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30; 31-33); “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. . . . he that hast seen me hath seen the rather” (John 14-:7-9). As God with us, Jesus revealed His deity, identifying Himself as the God of Abraham and the One who revealed Himself to Moses as the I AM (John 8:24,58).
Jesus was both God and man. Although this union is sometimes referred to as God-man, this term could be misleading, for it may lead some people to thing of Him as a demigod. On the other hand, it is equally incorrect to refer to Him as an anointed man. Although quantitatively God cannot be confined to a body, qualitatively He could reside in a body. Neither was Jesus a part human, but He was a man in the full sense. He was fully God and fully man. He possessed both the nature of God and the nature of man. He was aware that He was God and that He was a man. He could and did speak and act as a man, and He could and did speak and act as God. As a man, He did not know the day or hour when the Son would come in power and glory (Mark 13:32); as God He forgave sins (Mark 2:5). Both His humanity and deity, although fused into His one being, remained distinct within His one personality. Admittedly, the Incarnation is a mystery beyond the comprehension of
the human mind.
Did Jesus pray to Himself? No, not when we understand that Jesus was both God and man. In His deity, Jesus did not pray, for God does not need to pray to anyone. As a man, Jesus prayed to God, not to His humanity. He did not pray to Himself as a man, but He prayed to God, to the same God who dwelled in His humanity and who also inhabits the universe. No further explanation is given, and none is needed.
Does Jesus pray now since His exaltation? The answer is no. He prayed in the days of His flesh (Hebrews 5:7). The work of mediation was finished through His death on the cross at Calvary (Hebrews 9:14-15). There is no more I sacrifice for sins, for once and for all time His blood was shed for the remission of sins (Hebrews 10:12). Unlike the Old Testament priests, He does not continually offer sacrifices for sins. There is no more offering, but there remains remission of sins for those who repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:18; Acts 2:38). His present role as intercessor consists not of daily prayers by the application of the benefits of the cross to our lives (Romans 8:34; I John 1:7-9; 2:1-2).
Jesus said, “At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have love me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world and go to the Father” (John 16:26-28). Jesus does not pray now, but as God He hears and answers the prayers prayed in His name.
(The above material appeared in a September, 1989 issue of Pentecostal Herald.)
THE UNITY OF GOD
Recently an article in a major Christian magazine referred to the United Pentecostal Church as “the third-largest psuedo-Christian sect” in the world. It is not the first time that the author, Robert M. Bowman, Jr., has tried to depict the Oneness Pentecostals as less than Christians.” On what basis does he make his claim? That Oneness Pentecostals do not accept the doctrine that God is a threefold being that we believe as the Bible states that God is one (1 Corinthians 8:4; Galatians 3:20).
Since the doctrine of the Trinity is not found in the Bible, it should follow that belief in it is not a requirement to be a Christian. No one in the Bible was told, “Believe in the Trinity and you shall be saved.” On the contrary, we are told that we are to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31). United Pentecostals believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that we have life through His name-just as Jesus and the gospel are presented in the Bible.
It is also true that the United Pentecostal Church believes in one God, and that this one God is known to us as rather (both the father of the Son and our spiritual Father), who came to earth in His Son (born of the virgin Mary by the Holy Ghost), and who now fills us with His Spirit (by whom we are made children of God). We believe that the Son of God was the sinless human in whom the one true God manifested Himself in redemptive love.
It should be emphasized that the United Pentecostal Church is not aunitarian movement (although some opponents have erroneously referred to us by this name), for unlike the Unitarians, we believe in the full deity as well as the full humanity of Jesus Christ. We also affirm that not only His sin-less humanity but also His full deity is a necessary element in the atonement for our sins.
With Protestants in general, we believe that salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works; we further hold that salvation is not limited to a supposed predestined group, but that salvation is available to anyone, to whosoever will; we believe that sinners are commanded to repent of their sins and to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; we believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit is for all believers; we believe that Christians are to live a holy lifestyle according to the teachings in the Bible; we believe that Jesus Christ will return for His church; and we believe that every person will one day stand before the judgment of God. All of these beliefs are clearly supported by the Bible.
The Bible does not, however, support Bowman’s contention that a person has to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity in order to be a Christian. It is not necessary to accept a trinitarian explanation of God to believe that God has revealed Himself in redemptive grace as Father, in the Son, and as the Holy Ghost. Indeed, as Christian scholars agree, the doctrine of the Trinity did not originate until the
third and fourth centuries, it therefore follows that the early Christians did not know or believe in the Trinity.” Rather they believed in God the Father, in Jesus the Son of God, and in the presence of the Holy Ghost in the lives of Christians.
There is not one reference in the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, that calls God a threefold being, or even states that God exists in three persons. Not only is the word Trinity absent from the Bible but the concept is missing. On the other hand, even a casual reader cannot miss the strict monotheism expounded in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. (For example, Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 4-3:10-12; 44-:6,8; 1 Corinthians 8:4-; 1 Timothy 2:5.) God is always a single being, a single mind, a single personality.
While trinitarians profess in one breath that they believe that God is one, in the next breath they say that He is three. Bowman writes: “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:'” He apparently sees no contradiction between the “indivisible oneness” and three distinct persons. This doublethink is common in trinitarian language.
William Evans, in his book The Great Doctrines of the Bible, states that God is a living person. A few pages later, he writes: “A multiplication of gods is a contradiction; there can be but one God. There can be but one absolutely perfect, supreme, and almighty Being. Such a Being cannot be multiplied, nor pluralized. There can be but one ultimate, but one all-inclusive, but one God. Monotheism, then, not Tritheism, is the doctrine set forth in the Scriptures: “Oneness Pentecostals agree with him that God is a person and that He cannot be multiplied or pluralized.
But Evans quickly contradicts his own words for in the next paragraph he states: “The doctrine of the unity of God does not exclude the idea of a plurality of persons in the Godhead . . . .We believe, therefore, that there are three persons in the Godhead, but one God.”‘ One moment Evans states that God is a (one) person, that He cannot be pluralized, but the next moment he says that this unity of God includes a plurality and three persons. No wonder he confesses on the next page that “the doctrine of the Trinity is, in its last analysis, a deep mystery that cannot be fathomed by the finite mind.”
Trinitarians also have difficulty explaining that the doctrine of Trinity is not tritheism. Evans sounds the familiar defense: “Anti-trinitarians represent the evangelical church as believing in three Gods, but this is not true; it believes in one God, but three persons in the Godhead.” But Evans, as do other trinitarians, leans toward tritheism in spite of decrying it. In his attempt to contrast the unity of God with the concept of a plurality of gods, with a minor change his correct definition of tritheism given below would also be the definition of the Trinity: “The doctrine of the unity of God is held in contradistinction to polytheism, which is belief in a multiplicity of gods; to Tri-theism, which teaches that there are three Gods-that is that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are, specifically, three distinct Gods.” If at the end of this quote he had used persons for Gods he would have stated the trinitarian theory instead of the beliefin tritheism, and the distinction is less than a hairbreath.
But we should not be surprised at the problem trinitarians have in trying to distinguish between the doctrine of the Trinity and tritheism, for the concept of tritheism was held by some, if not the majority, of those who formulated the doctrine of the Trinity in AD 381.
Basil of Caesarea, one of the Cappadocian Fathers who were most influential at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381, explained what they meant by stating that God is one substance in three persons (hypotheses): “Substance relates to hypothesis as universal relates to particular. Each of us shares in existence through the common substance and yet is a specific individual because of his own characteristics. So also with God, substance refers to that which is common, like goodness, deity, or other attributes, while hypothesis is seen in the special characteristics of fatherhood, sonship, or sanctifying power.” Tony Lane remarks that this explanation used by the Cappodician Fathers “lays them open to the charge of tritheism (belief in three Gods).”
Today many trinitarians, in an effort to avoid the heresy of tritheism, attempt to reconcile the tritheistic language in the Nicene Creed to monotheism by defining the term person to mean something other than personality. John M. Krumm, a trinitarian, admits the problems of tritheism in the use of persons: “To say that there is One God in Three Persons is misleading to many people, who at once leap to the
conclusion that Christianity imagines three distinct personalities joined together in a sort of heavenly executive committee all the time. ‘Persons’ is probably a poor word to us for the modern readers or listeners because it has come to mean an individual personality, an intensely self-conscious center of will and purpose and desire. If there are three such personalities in the Godhead, then Christianity has apparently abandoned the faith in One God and gone in for tritheism.”
Georgia Harkness, a prolific Methodist writer, states: ‘It was when the Trinity began to be defined as una substantia tres personae, and the personae came to be thought of, not as three manifestations of one God, but as three persons in the ordinary sense, that tritheism crept into the thinking of the Church.”
The attempt to differentiate person from either personality or being is indeed an unending task. It is not only beyond the Scriptures but it is also beyond reason to suppose that three persons could be as distinct as trinitarians claim for the Trinity and still the three persons not be three beings or three Gods.
Trinitarians tell us that the three persons in the Trinity have different self-consciousness, different wills, different perceptions, different relations to each other and to mankind, different acts to perform, and different personalities; they inform us that these persons love each other, converse with each other, and in every sense of the word act as two individuals such as a Mr. Smith and a Mr. Jones.
If it is correct to call a person a pseudo-Christian if he does not hold to the trinitarian beliefs expressed in the Nicene Creed, then trinitarians themselves may be found at fault, for often they deviate in some measure or interpretation from this creed. As we have seen, trinitarians do not all agree on the meaning of such vital words as persons.
Walter Martin, while accepting the trinitarian principle expressed in the Nicene Creed, argues with the thought that the Son is eternally begotten. He states that the Son is not eternal but that the “person” in the Godhead that later was begotten as the Son is eternal. He therefore believes that the term Son can only refer to the “second person” in the Godhead after the birth of Jesus by Mary.
That Martin’s view on this matter conflicts with the orthodox interpretation of the Nicene Creed is evident. Of course, he feels that he is orthodox and that the “eternal Son” is an error based on a theory proposed by Origen and later adopted by the Roman Catholic Church. He acknowledges, however, that the “eternal Son” interpretation has carried over to “some aspects of Protestant theology:”” The Nicene Creed states: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds. . .”
Although Martin’s deviation is acceptable by his associates such as Bowman, it is still a departure, although minor, from historic orthodoxy, and by Bowman’s criterion, Martin could be called a pseudo-Christian. Indeed, Bowman calls anyone who disagrees with what he supposes to be vital in Christianity a pseudo-Christian or even a cult.”
What do Christians believe about Jesus Christ? First, they believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He was born of the virgin Mary by the Holy Ghost (Matthew 1:18-23), that as human He increased physically, mentally, and socially (Luke 2:52). As the Son of God, Jesus stated that He was limited as to His knowledge (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7), as to His abilities to perform mighty works and miracles without the Father (John 5:19, 30; 8:28; 14-:10) and as to His personal spiritual strength (John 12:27). In all of His reference to His role as the Son of God, He attributes His mission, His miracles, and His doctrine to God His Father.
As the Son of God He was born after the seed of Abraham and David and He lived as other men, even to being tempted in all points like we are (Hebrews 2:18; 4-:15). As the Son of God, He ate, prayed, became weary, and eventually died on the cross. As the Son of God He became our sacrificial substitute on the cross, bearing our sins, dying for us. As the Son of God, He was raised from the dead by God, and He was exalted: God made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).
Jesus, however, was more than the Son of God; He was also the one true God manifested in the flesh (I Timothy 31:16). He was not “God the Son;’ as trinitarians like to think, and He was not a second person of the Trinity incarnate in the Son of man, but He was the fullness of God-the same God who revealed Himself to Abraham, to Moses, to the prophets, and to the Israelite nation (Colossians 2:9; John 8:24, 58). Jesus was the God of the Old Testament manifested in the man Christ Jesus. (See Isaiah 40:3 and Matthew 3:3.)
While Jesus was anointed by God (Acts 10:38), we must not suppose Him to be just an anointed man. Instead, we must also see Him in His deity as God manifesting Himself in redemptive love: To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (11 Corinthians 5:19). When we behold Him, we behold the mystery of the incarnation; He is Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23).
If our belief in Jesus as both human and deity is wrong, then the belief of the apostles and the New Testament writers is wrong. While we must proclaim the Christ of the Bible and hold to the absolute unity of God, we must guard our hearts that we do not become arrogant with our message or disdainful in our attitude. It is not for us to unjustly criticize those who disagree with us, but we must reach out to them with truth in love.
Our plea is that all Christians return to the simple language of the Bible, believing all things written about Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. And may we remember that no one can come to the Father except through Him, neither can we know the Father without knowing Him John 14:6-9).
Perhaps the attempt to label the Oneness Pentecostal movement as a pseudo-Christian sect was prompted by a rigid, exclusive, and dogmatic attitude. Perhaps other motives lurk behind the scene. We only know that the attempt to discredit the Oneness movement in the eyes of others cannot destroy the truth that God is one. If the United Pentecostal Church would disappear from the earth, the truth of the oneness of God and that the one true God came in Jesus Christ will remain. This truth is in the Word of God, and the Word shall not pass away.
No one can destroy truth, but we can all pray that God will enable all of us to understand more of the truth about Him through the Word, and that He would lead us to a greater commitment of our lives to the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ, who redeemed us from sin and its horrible consequences.
(The above material appeared in a December, 1987 issue of Pentecostal Herald.)
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