An Examination of Distinctions

By Douglas Joseph

Pastor, Christian Apostolic Church, Clarksburg, WV

(Church affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church International)

Key to an understanding of crucial differences between Oneness theology and Trinitarian theology is an examination of various concepts of distinction and consequent uses of words like distinction, relationship, and similar terms.

Often Trinitarian authors seek to deny Oneness proponents the freedom to observe any distinction between the Deity manifested in Jesus Christ and His humanity. Examples are found in The Gospel According to Oneness Pentecostalism by Mike Barden (self-published via the Internet) and Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity by Gregory A. Boyd (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992). Barden alleges of Oneness:

“Any relationship between the Father and the Son is between Jesus' deity and Jesus' humanity (in other words, when Jesus prays, He's really talking to Himself). Otherwise, there is no real distinction or relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, because ‘God is one’; any personal relationship between these ‘modes’ of God is not real, but only apparent.”

Such attacks are arguments against a straw man. Oneness proponents do not hold that there can be no distinction observed between the Deity manifested in Jesus Christ and His humanity. Rather, as stated by UPCI author David Bernard (in An Answer to a Critic, a review of Gregory Boyd’s above mentioned work), “a distinction between the Father and the Son (not of eternal personhood, but relative to the Incarnation) is at the very core of Oneness theology.” The scriptural distinction between the Father and the Son is held by Oneness believers as obvious and very real (not “faked” or “apparent”).

The distinction denied by Oneness adherents is the Trinitarian concept that seeks to intellectually separate one divine nature (or one divine being) into three distinct divine beings, or three centers of divine consciousness. Orthodox Trinitarianism sets forth that there are three eternal—and eternally distinct—persons, and that the role, rank and power of deity is ascribed to each. Oneness believers find fundamental incongruity between true monotheism (God is one, having a basic essence that is indivisible) and orthodox Trinitarian theology.

The Oneness view sees 1) the Father as the eternal God, and 2) the Son is Deity only because He is indwelt by the Father (the Son is the Father incarnated in flesh). The Son is Deity, but not because He possesses some second or third divine nature that is distinct from the Father.

Orthodox Trinitarianism—having both the Son and the Holy Spirit as persons eternally distinct from the Father, and each eternally possessing their own divine nature, and their divine natures being eternally distinct from the Father—postulates (whether deliberately or ancillary) 1) the Father as an eternal God, 2) the Son as an eternal God, and 3) the Holy Spirit as an eternal God. The Son possesses both human nature and divine nature, and His divinity is supposedly distinct from the Father.

A major flaw is present in Trinitarianism: Accepted are three distinct, divine natures, among which one distinguishes based on which distinct person is in possession of his own particular divine nature.

When writing in defense of their own stance, Trinitarians accept that a pre-existing divine person and His own human manifestation can be viewed as one person. I.E. The divine Son (“God the Son”), who supposedly pre-existed the human Son, was incarnated in the human Son, and yet there was only one Son. Yet when attacking the Oneness, Trinitarians do not allow for the fact that a divine person and His own human manifestation can be viewed as one person. I.E. The Father, who pre-existed the human Son, was incarnated in the human Son, and yet there was only one person: Jesus Christ.

To avoid their serious inconsistency, Trinitarians should either grant to both sides the latitude to view a pre-existing divine person and His own human manifestation as one person, or concede that neither side can make such a claim.

If such a claim is not sound, then the Trinity is not three distinct persons, but four: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and the human Son, who must be viewed as a person distinct from God the Son.

If such a claim is sound, then Trinitarians must admit that the Oneness position—that God the Father and His own fleshly manifestation are to be viewed as one person—is a plausible doctrine. The only remaining question is: Who was incarnated in the Son at the Incarnation? Was the Son manifested in the Son? Or was the Father manifested in the Son? The scriptures clearly reveal that God the Father was manifested in the Son.

The easiest way for Trinitarians to understand how Oneness adherents view the Godhead (and the distinction between the Father and the Son), is for them to try to grasp how Trinitarians contend that the (so-called) “God the Son” and Jesus Christ (the man) are viewed as one person instead of two. It is then but a simple step for a Trinitarian to realize he or she has been viewing the Incarnation incorrectly—as a divine Son incarnated in a human Son, instead of the divine Father incarnated in the human Son.

Posted March 13, 2003 by permission of the author


August 23, 1997
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