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Do You Believe in the Son of God?

“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:9-12 NKJV)

The truth laid out in these verses is simple- he who has the Son has life; he who does not believe in the Son of God, does not have life. Salvation comes through Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5), and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

To believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, then, is manifestly required for salvation. The confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is central to the true Christian faith (Matt 16:16).

Yet tragically, many professing Christians deny the Son of God. They do this by embracing Augustinian trinitarianism.

Surely such a statement must seem shocking to many. But consider this- if one believes that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Supreme God, the one God, the Almighty, rather than His Son, then a person does not truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

You see, to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God requires more than that we simply repeat the words “Son of God”. We must believe what scripture means by the phrase, or it profits us nothing. And scripturally, the Son of God is a distinct individual from the one God, the Supreme God, the Father. To believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God requires us to believe that He is a different person than the God whose Son He is.

Most modern trinitarians simply do not believe this. They are quick to confess their faith that Jesus Christ is not the Father, but the Son of the Father; yet by denying the identity of the one God with the person of the Father, their confession that Christ is the Son of the Father does not equate to a confession of Him as the Son of God.

Rather, they view the one God as the Trinity of three ‘persons’. This Trinity is, in their thinking, the one God, the Supreme God, the Almighty. This person is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The problems with this anti-scriptural view are manifold; but one of the most alarming is that it severely alters the relationship of the Son with God. Rather than the Son being the Son of God, and a distinct person from Him, this view presents the Son as part of God -a person out of three who is the one God- rather than the Son of God.

This view is still able to maintain the Son’s identity as Son of the Father, since within this “tri-personal God” the ‘person’ of the Son relates to the ‘person’ of the Father as a distinguishable entity, which is begotten by the Father. Thus a Father-Son distinction is maintained, at least at a certain limited level. But since the God is not synonymous with the Father in this view, this in no way equals believing that Christ is the Son of God. This Father-Son distinction is all deemed to be “within God”. Thus the Lord Jesus Christ is confessed to be the Son of the Father, yet denied to be the Son of God.

This all stems from the root problem of denying the historic first article of the Christian faith- that there is “one God, the Father Almighty”, as so many ancient creeds begin. Both the scriptures and the Christians of the first several centuries of church history are clear in stating the identity of the one God with the Father (see here). As Paul the apostle wrote, “For us there is one God, the Father, from Whom are all things” (1 Cor 8:6). And the Lord Jesus Christ defined eternal life, saying “this is eternal life, that they may know You [the Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 NKJV).

Those then who deny that the one God is the Father Almighty in particular, set themselves not only at odds with classical Christianity as seen in the writings of the church fathers, but more importantly deny a central truth taught by the holy scriptures. In doing so God’s glory is obscured, and the church is harmed, being deprived of important truth. But worse still, such a denial ultimately results in a denial of the basic and necessary Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Augustinian trinitarianism, then, or semi-modalism, as I prefer to call it, is not simply some innocuous error. It does not only work against the glory of God and the good of His people- it is, if held sincerely, a damnable denial of the Christian faith, by constituting a denial of Christ Himself. By denying the identity of the Father and the Supreme God, the one God, the Almighty, this heresy makes Jesus Christ out to not truly be the Son of God, but merely a part of His own self. Confessing that Jesus is the Son of the Father is not enough- He must be believed in as the Son of God. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:9-12 NKJV)

Five Common Objections to Biblical Trinitarianism Answered

In Five Simple Proofs That the Father Alone Is the Supreme Being we looked at several ways we can know on the basis of scripture, reason, and natural theology that the Son is not the same individual being as the Father. Here I want to examine the most common objections leveled against the biblical doctrine of the Trinity by semi-modalists, and briefly answer them. The objections are stated as they have frequently appeared in discussions.

Objection #1: If the Son is another distinct individual being besides the Supreme Being, the One God, and He is also called “God”, this makes two Gods, and so destroys monotheism.

Answer #1: This assumes that for monotheism to be true, there must only be one being in the universe to which the title “God” may be accurately applied; yet scripture contradicts this notion. For certainly scripture teaches that there is one God; “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things” 1 Cor 8:6 NASB; but it also teaches that there are many beings that may be called gods, on account of the dominion they possess; “indeed there are many gods and many lords,” 1 Cor 8: 5 NASB. Rulers on Israel were called “gods” (Ex 22:28), Satan is called “the god of this world” for sake of the temporal power he has over the world system (2 Cor 4:4), and men who are enslaved to their appetites are even said to have their appetites as their gods (Phil 3:19). In scripture, to be ‘god’ is always relative; to be god is to be ‘God of’ or ‘God over’ something; and so throughout scripture, to be god, or possess divinity, is simply to possess dominion. And so on this account, the Son of God, being a distinct individual being from the Father, Who shares in the Father’s dominion over the universe, is God over all creation. Yet He Himself is subject to His Father as His God, He Who alone has supreme dominion over all things absolutely, and so on that account is alone styled ‘the one God’, and ‘the only true God’.

And so we know from scripture that there is one sense in which there is only one God, as there is only one Who is absolutely supreme over all, the Father, the Supreme Being; and yet there is another sense in which there are many beings which may be called gods, on account of the lesser dominion they have. Neither the divinity of the Son, or His true existence as a distinct individual being, then, will be found to be an obstacle to biblical monotheism.

Objection #2: The Son, as well as the Father, is called by the name LORD; therefore, They must be one individual being, and so the Son, as well as the Father, is the Supreme Being.

Answer #2: This assumes that there is only one individual being called LORD; an assumption contrary to scripture. For throughout scripture we see two beings called LORD; one supreme, invisible to mortal man (“You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live” Ex 33:20 NASB), and the other subordinate, sent by the former, appearing to men and conversing with them in His own person (“I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” Gen 32:30 NASB). And so scripture speak of two named LORD; “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven” Gen 19:24 NASB.

And the Son, after having laid aside His glory in the days of His humiliation, is expressly said to have been given the name LORD again by the Father: “For this reason also [His humiliation and passion], God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil 2:9-11 NASB. Now we must observe two things here: firstly, that unless the Son were a distinct individual being from the Father, He could not ever be given the name LORD by the Father; and secondly, that if the name LORD denotes the Supreme Being alone, Who some wrongly suppose Christ to be, then Christ would need to have always had the name LORD, even during the incarnation. The fact that it could be laid aside and taken up again shows that it is indeed a name, and is honorific, and does not only denote the very being of the one God, but is a name shared by the one God with another individual being, His Son.

Objection #3: The church has historically taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are one individual being or essence; surely the church cannot have erred so grievously for so long, as to have been wrong on that point.

Answer #3: It would be enough to answer simply that knowledge of doctrinal truth is not gained from popularity or the consent of authorities, but by demonstration from the holy scriptures. For we are not to blindly accept whatever doctrines authority endorses, but rather “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” 1 Thess 5:21 NKJV. As second century father Clement of Alexandria said “For we may not give our adhesion to men on a bare statement by them, who might equally state the opposite. But if it is not enough merely to state the opinion, but if what is stated must be confirmed, we do not wait for the testimony of men, but we establish the matter that is in question by the voice of the Lord, which is the surest of all demonstrations, or rather is the only demonstration; in which knowledge those who have merely tasted the Scriptures are believers.”

The controversy then, will not be decided by popes, councils, or the opinions of theologians in church history, but by the voice of the Lord speaking in the scriptures. But that having been said, it is noteworthy that the orthodox fathers, from the earliest times through the fourth century, held that the Son and Father are two numerically distinct individual beings. For example, Justin Martyr in the second century said “And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will” (Dialogue, Ch 28). But more than that, even once it was becoming more and more common to insist on a generic unity of nature, in the Nicene and post-nicene eras, the best pro-nicene fathers expressly rejected as Modalism the notion that the Father and Son share the same individual being -the very view which has become so common in later history. For Athanasius declared “For neither do we hold a Son-Father, as do the Sabellians, calling Him of one but not of the same essence, and thus destroying the existence of the Son.” (Statement of Faith). And Basil the Great said “This term [co-essential] also corrects the error of Sabellius, for it removes the idea of the identity of the hypostases, and introduces in perfection the idea of the Persons. For nothing can be of the same substance with itself, but one thing is of same substance with another.” (Letter LII). We see that for these fathers, the co-essentiality of the Trinity was a merely generic one, a sharing of a common nature between multiple individual beings; in their mind the Father and Son shared a common generic being, but were not one individual being, which is said by both these fathers to have been the very heresy of Sabellianism (which is modalism).

Objection #4: The Son shares the moral perfections and likeness of the Father, and all His divine attributes, and also shares in His works; therefore, being united in these things, They must both be one and the same individual being, together the Supreme Being.

Answer #4: Since the only-begotten Son is the very Image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), the brightness of His glory, and the exact representation of His person (Heb 1:1-3), Who shares one common image and likeness with the Father (Gen 1:26), and has life in Himself as the Father has life in Himself (Jn 5:26), through Whom the Supreme Being created all things (Jn 1:1-3), upholds the existence of all things (Col 1:17), rules over all things (Matt 28:18), reconciles all things to Himself (Col 1:20), and shall judge all men (Jn 5:22), it is no surprise that the Son shares in the Father’s moral perfections and actions. Yet none of these things require the Son to be the same individual being as the Father, but rather show the impossibility of such; for the Image and the thing imaged cannot be one and the same individual being, and neither can one work instrumentally through another, unless there really is another being to work through. But the Son, while sharing in many of the Father’s attributes, cannot be said to share in all of them; for the Father is invisible to mortal man, and the Son visible; the Father is uncaused, while the Son is begotten; the Father has supreme authority over all, while the Son is Himself subject to the Father. If then, it will be argued that the Son having all the same attributes as the Father is something in favor or Him being the same individual being as the Father (which has been shown false), then it must be admitted as well that the fact that the Son does not possess all the same attributes as the Supreme Being is a powerful proof that He is not the Supreme being, the one God, but another distinct individual being besides Him.

Objection #5: In cases where the truth is uncertain, we ought to err on the side of safety, by honoring the Son more highly, rather than less highly; and so we ought to believe Him to be, together with the Father, the Supreme Being, the One God.

Answer #5: This incorrectly assumes, firstly, that there is a reasonable ground for uncertainty, where there is not; for scripture has made sufficiently clear, in the Old Testament and the New, that the Son and Father are two distinct individual beings, not one and the same (see Five Simple Proofs That the Father Alone Is the Supreme Being). But moreover, let us consider which view truly honors Christ more- that which by making Him the same individual being as the Father takes away His true existence entirely, and makes Him a mere mode or name of the Father, or that which says that He is another really existing individual being besides the Father, subordinate only to the Father, and superior to everything in all creation. It is evident that the latter view is far more glorifying to Christ, and so indeed is the safer view.

Five Simple Proofs That the Father Alone Is the Supreme Being

The one God, the Supreme Being, is the Father in particular. “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Cor 8:6 NASB. However, these are many who, acknowledging only one Supreme Being, the one God, wish to say that this one God is not the Father alone and in particular, as the scriptures teach, but the persons of the Son and Spirit as well. As a person is a rational individual being by definition, the concept of a multipersonal being is a logical impossibility. However, many have sought to redefine the very term ‘person’ itself, as merely a mode of subsistence or consciousness, and argued that it is possible to have three such “persons” in a single individual being. The following arguments refute that notion by proving that the Supreme Being is not the Father and the Son, but the Father alone, regardless of how ‘person’ is defined.

Proof #1: The Supreme Being, the One God, is uncaused. The Son, as having been begotten from the Father before creation, is caused. Therefore, the Son is not the Supreme Being.

Proof #2: The Supreme Being, the One God, is absolutely sovereign over all; all things are subject to Him as being under His dominion, and He Himself is subject to none, under the dominion and authority of none. The Son is subject to the Father, being under His authority and serving Him as His God. Therefore, the Son cannot be the Supreme Being.

Proof #3: The Supreme Being, the One God, is invisible to mortal man. The Son, on the other hand, was seen my mortal man in His own person both before and after His incarnation, and so, is visible. Therefore, the Son is not the Supreme Being.

Proof #4: A mediator between a being and another party cannot be that same being; and so must be a distinct individual being. The Son of God is the one Mediator between God and man. Therefore the Son is necessarily a distinct individual being from the one God, or else He could not be Mediator.

Proof #5: A son is always a distinct person from his father. Therefore, if Christ is the Son of the Father, He cannot be the same person, and the persons of Father and Son cannot be one and the same. Therefore the Father and Son cannot be the same individual being. For if They are each only part of the Supreme Being, then neither is the Supreme Being, but each is only a part of it; but if each is equal to the whole Supreme Being, then They will be identical in person as well as being. This can be demonstrated as follows (F=Father, S=Son, G=Supreme Being); If F=G, and S=G, then necessarily, F=S. Therefore, it is impossible, if Christ is the Son of God, that He be the same individual being as the Father.

While the above arguments pertain to the Son and not directly to the Holy Spirit, the same logic of the 5th proof holds good for the Holy Spirit as well, if He be admitted to be a distinct person from the Father (see that demonstrated here). And the 4th argument will also have some application to the Spirit, as He assists us in our prayers to God, we are told. Therefore, the Supreme Being, the One God, is the Father alone, not the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together. And so the Son and Spirit are two distinct individual beings besides the one God, being His Son, and His Spirit.

For sake of brevity and clarity, I did not seek to support the premises of proofs above, but do so below. The conclusions of the above proofs necessarily follow, if the premises hold true.

Proof #1, expanded upon: That the One God, the Supreme Being, is the one uncaused Cause of all else, is the first point of natural theology, and assumed everywhere in the scriptures. And that “the Father is greater than all” confirms this clearly enough; for if the Father were caused, undoubtedly the one Who caused Him would be greater than Him. That the Son is begotten from the Father has been the most central point of trinitarian doctrine since the 2nd century. It is affirmed in scripture as a necessary deduction from many passages in John, which at once teach that the Son is begotten, and has His life from the Father, and yet, that He was already with the Father and lived with Him before all creation and all time. The Son’s generation then must have taken place before time. “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself;” John 5:26 NASB. Proverbs 8:22-31 is also clear in teaching this, and was so taken by nearly the entire early church, and on all sides of the Arian controversy.

Proof #2, expanded upon: That the Supreme Being rules over all absolutely is also a point of natural theology, understood even by the heathen. And so Paul proclaimed nothing novel to the Athenians when he said “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;” Acts 17:22-27 NASB. Since God is the cause of all else that exists besides Himself, it follows and is fitting that He has dominion over all that He has caused. And that God rules over all absolutely is declared by scripture when He is said many times to be “Almighty”, which is the Greek word Pantokrator, literally, Ruler over all, or Supreme Ruler. And this is not said of God in a qualified way, so as to exclude the Son and Spirit from being under His authority, but is said absolutely, without qualification, and so not only all creation, but also the Son and Spirit, are subject to the Father. That God is the head of Christ (1 Cor 11:3) is repeatedly taught in the scriptures. “But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him [the Son], then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” 1 Cor 15:27-28 NASB. The Son’s subjection to the Father is also seen throughout the OT, where He obeyed the Father in creating the world according to His command, and served as His Angel, that is, Messenger, to the men of old. And so being sent by the Father, He is clearly subject to Him, in the obedience of filial love.

Proof #3, expanded upon: God’s invisibility to mortal man, it is clearly stated in scripture more than a few times: “But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”” Ex 33:20 NASB “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” John 1:18 NASB “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.” John 6:46 NASB “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:12 NASB “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Col 1:15 NASB “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Tim 1:17 NASB. But one may object, ‘Was not the Father seen, in Revelation, and in Daniel?’ It is best understood this way, that the Father has never been, and cannot be, seen in His own person by mortal man (whereas the Son can be and was); but can be ‘seen’ figuratively under symbols as in Revelation and Daniel, because what was seen was not the Father in His own person but a mere symbol (for God is not a man sitting on a throne, and the Son is not a fluffy animal with a bunch of eyes and horns; they are mere symbols). So while the Supreme Being, the one God, cannot be seen by mortal man in His own person, the Son was, from the beginning. For Adam hid from God walking in the garden; and God closed the Ark behind Noah; spoke face to face with Abraham, and wrestled with Jacob. And Isaiah saw His glory (Jn 12:41). This was not the Father Who was seen, for as has been shown above, that is impossible; but rather was the Son, for this God Who appeared to the men of old is no mere created angel, but bears the very name LORD, which we are not told that God has shared with any other, besides His only-begotten Son.

Proof #4, expanded upon: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” 1 Tim 2:5 NASB. “Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.” Gal 3:20 NASB. The mediator, then, not being for one party only, all the more cannot be one of the parties between whom there is mediation.

Proof #5, expanded upon: That Christ is the Son of God is among the most plain and central teachings of scripture: “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matt 16:16, NASB. “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 1 John 5:9-12 NKJV. That the Son and Father are not the same person is obvious, but made even more explicit in these passages, among others: “Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” John 14:23 NASB. The Lord could not have said “We”, but must rather have said “I”, if He and His Father were not two distinct persons. “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true… the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.” John 5:31-32, 37 NKJV. The Father cannot be “another witness” unless he is another person, distinct from the Son.

Commentary on 1 John 5:7

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” – 1 John 5:7

When the text says, and these three are one, it is not [εἰς unus] one and the same person; but [ἓν unum] one and the same thing in effect [or, purpose], i.e. one and the same testimony. Even if the Comma Johanneum is genuine, which I do not grant, the phrase ἓν εἰσι (are one) could not be proved in this text, to mean anything more than agreeing in one and the same testimony. Beza himself understood the oneness here spoken of, to be only oneness in testimony. Consider the words of Christ’s prayer for his disciples, “that they may be one, ὦσιν ἓν, as we are.” Are we to then conclude, that the disciples are one individual being? I do not cite this text to say that if it does not mean unity of being there, then it can not mean unity of being here. That would be a word fallacy (illegitimate totality transfer). However, what I am saying is that it is apparent that a unity of concord (agreement) is an entirely different thing from a unity of being. And since the Greek expression nowhere appears to indicate a unity of essence, this unity must be proved by the context or by some other argument. The only type of union that can be inferred from the text, is one of testimony: “there are three that bear testimony, μαρτυροῦντες,” v. 7. There is no hint of any unity of metaphysical nature or essence in the surrounding context, but the text deals wholly with testimony, viz. “that Jesus is the Son of God,” v. 5. It is therefore completely unwarranted to use the Comma Johanneum, regardless of its authenticity, as justification for the notion that the three persons are one individual being.

The above is the combination of the insightful thoughts of Clarke, Pierce, and Alexander Asciutto on the spurious text of the Johannine comma. See Alexander Asciutto’s website here.

The Homoians: Proto-Protestants of the Post-Nicene Era

‘Homoian’ is a term used for those who subscribed to the articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity formulated by the ecumenical councils of Arminium and Seleucia, which were held in 359 AD in an attempt to resolve the ongoing doctrinal controversies of the fourth century. Their theology and practice is marked by several noteworthy traits shared in common with later Protestantism:

1) The translation of the Bible into the vernacular: Ulfilas, the ‘missionary to the Goths’, a prominent Homoian, translated nearly the entirety of the holy scriptures into the ancient Gothic tongue. Martin Luther was not the first to translate the scriptures into a vernacular German language for use by the people.

2) Sola scriptura: The ancient Homoians repeatedly appealed to scripture as the authoritative source of doctrinal knowledge; not merely as one source of many, or one on equal footings with councils, but as the ultimate and only ordinary source from which legitimate Christian doctrine and practice could be known. Bishop Maximinus makes clear, for example, that the Homoians held the council of Arminium to be authoritative as a subordinate authority to the holy scriptures. “I wanted the decree of the Council of Ariminum to be present, not to excuse myself, but to show the authority of those fathers who handed on to us in accord with the divine scriptures the faith which they learned from the divine scriptures.” (Debate with Augustine)

3) That scripture can offer a corrective to errors made by ecumenical councils and popes: This really falls under sola scriptura as well, but it is such a noteworthy point that it really deserves special emphasis. The Homoian councils of Arminium and Seleucia ruled that while the fathers as the council if Nicea thirty-four years earlier had intended the extra-biblical language of ‘co-essentiality’ to have a biblical meaning, the introduction of such ambiguous, ill-understood, and extra-scriptural language had proved too problematic to retain it as dogma. The mistake of the first ecumenical council would be rectified on a scriptural basis:

“But the word ‘substance,’ which was too simply inserted by the Fathers, and, not being understood by the people, was a cause of scandal through its not being found in the Scriptures, it has seemed good to us to remove, and that for the future no mention whatever be permitted of the ‘substance’ of the Father and the Son. Nor must one ‘essence’ be named in relation to the person of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And we call the Son like the Father, as the Holy Scriptures call Him and teach; but all the heresies, both those already condemned, and any, if such there be, which have risen against the document thus put forth, let them be anathema.” (Council of Arminium)

And so we see that a concern of the Homoians was that the church’s dogma be simple enough to be easily understood by the average Christian, as the ancient rule of faith was, and that it not be allowed to become so complicated and esoteric by the introduction of difficult philosophical terms that the average Christian could have no meaningful comprehension of the church’s doctrine.

It is noteworthy here that the fact that the language of Nicea is foreign to scripture is cited as a major aspect of why it should be removed, and replaced with a confession that was indisputably biblical. According to the Homoians, such vague expressions as those of Nicea, when they are ill-understood, need not be retained, even though the have the authority of an ecumenical council behind them. The endorsement of an ecumenical council was not enough to put the ‘homoousian’ articulation of the Trinity beyond question; when the language became a problem, it could be jettisoned, because a council was not enough to make the matter indisputable. Scripture was the standard, and since the problematic terminology was not given in the scriptures, it need not be retained when it had outlived its usefulness. Such an attitude towards the dogmas of councils clearly prefigures that of later Protestantism.

While the issue of the Pope’s opinion does not seem to have factored as heavily into these fourth-century disputes as it would in the Reformation, its noteworthy that the Homoian councils of Arminium and Seleucia just as much implied that the Papacy had erred, as it did the council of Nicea. The papacy had strongly supported the Nicene articulation of the Trinity, and the Pope at the time adamantly refused to assent to the decisions of these Homoian ecumenical councils. Yet the Homoians did not see a problem with disagreeing with the Bishop of Rome; scripture was the authority, and the Pope’s opinion could safely be disregarded when it contradicted the scriptures and the best interest of the church. In this way too, the ancient Homoians prefigured later Protestantism.

4) The Homoians ended up separated from the ecclesiastical hierarchies of the Roman churches by no fault of their own: Like later Protestantism, the Homoian position was eventually condemned by a later council, that held in Constantinople in 381, which, despite being local rather than ecumenical in representation, is remembered by many as an ecumenical council. Those bishops within the church hierarchies that fell within the bounds of the Roman Empire who disagreed with the new Emperor Theodosius I’s effectively unilateral doctrinal decisions, were unceremoniously ejected from their episcopates, and replaced by others who would comply with the Emperor’s wishes. Those Homoians who found themselves within the expansive bounds of the Roman Empire found themselves forced to continue on apart from the Imperial hierarchy and the papacy, continuing to meet together for centuries to come in houses and private settings, living as a persecuted minority. Outside the bounds of the Empire, the established churches of the Vandals, Goths, Gepids, and other Germanic peoples continued to be Homoian. For centuries these often existed side-by-side with Roman churches, as these tribes conquered and settled the territories formerly belonging to the Western Roman Empire. Like later Protestantism, the institutional split between Homoians and the Roman churches occurred because the Roman churches wrongly excommunicated them, forcing them to continue on without the fellowship of the Roman hierarchy.

All in all its interesting to consider the many similarities that the Homoians had with Protestantism. This is especially so when we consider the reactive influence that these Homoian traits may have had on the development of the Roman Catholic church; the church that Martin Luther and the Protestant reformers faced was not one that had never dealt with these things in the past, which had never considered such a way of looking at the authority of scripture and councils, etc, but one which had already effectively rejected the Protestant positions on some of the most central issues of the Reformation (such as sola scriptura) some thousand years prior to the Protestant Reformation. It is a shame that Protestantism, instead of examining the theology of their Homoian forefathers, and recognizing it as biblical, have generally remained mostly ignorant of this history, and have generally looked at it from the perspective of the Roman Catholic church, rather than with sympathy for their fourth-century counterparts.

Numerical Vs Generic Unity of Substance

Semi-modalism is built upon a twisting of the Nicene concept of co-essentiality. In the Nicene era and its creed, for multiple persons to be co-essential meant that nothing more than that they, as truly distinct rational individual beings (that is, persons) shared a common nature or species. A common analogy used by the Nicene fathers to capture their meaning, for example, is of three men being co-essential, in that they, while remaining three distinct individuals, share a common and identical human nature. Although there are three men, there is only one nature between them, human nature. Such was the original meaning of co-essentiality.

For example, Athanasius said:

“Even this is sufficient to dissuade you from blaming those who have said that the Son was coessential with the Father, and yet let us examine the very term ‘Coessential,’ in itself, by way of seeing whether we ought to use it at all, and whether it be a proper term, and is suitable to apply to the Son. For you know yourselves, and no one can dispute it, that Like is not predicated of essence, but of habits, and qualities; for in the case of essences we speak, not of likeness, but of identity. Man, for instance, is said to be like man, not in essence, but according to habit and character; for in essence men are of one nature. And again, man is not said to be unlike dog, but to be of different nature. Accordingly while the former [men] are of one nature and coessential, the latter are different in both.”

Hilary of Poitiers likewise clarified:

“Since, however, we have frequently to mention the words essence and substance, we must determine the meaning of essence, lest in discussing facts we prove ignorant of the signification of our words. Essence is a reality which is, or the reality of those things from which it is, and which subsists inasmuch as it is permanent. Now we can speak of the essence, or nature, or genus, or substance of anything. And the strict reason why the word essence is employed is because it is always. But this is identical with substance, because a thing which is, necessarily subsists in itself, and whatever thus subsists possesses unquestionably a permanent genus, nature or substance. When, therefore, we say that essence signifies nature, or genus, or substance, we mean the essence of that thing which permanently exists in the nature, genus, or substance.

And Basil of Caesarea wrote:

“The distinction between οὐσία [essence] and ὑπόστασις [person] is the same as that between the general and the particular ; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man.” (Letter 236)”

This understanding of co-essentiality is likewise required by the council of Chalcedon:

“our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood”

Its clear, then, that the original intent of declaring that the Father, Son, and Spirit share one essence was not to make Them out to all be one person, one individual being, but simply to declare that They shared a common nature or species. This meaning changed, however, and was not kept clear as time went on; the Western churches going to far as to eventually formally change the meaning of co-essentiality in the 4th Lateran council in 1215.  Rather than indicating a generic unity of sharing one nature, now co-essentiality was defined as teaching that the unity the persons shared was of being one single numerically individual reality, one rational individual being- that is, in reality, one person. The ‘essence’ was no longer viewed as a nature, but a single subsistent ‘supreme reality’.

“We, however, with the approval of this sacred and universal council, believe and confess with Peter Lombard that there exists a certain supreme reality, incomprehensible and ineffable, which truly is the Father and the Son and the holy Spirit, the three persons together and each one of them separately. Therefore in God there is only a Trinity, not a quaternity, since each of the three persons is that reality — that is to say substance, essence or divine nature-which alone is the principle of all things, besides which no other principle can be found. This reality neither begets nor is begotten nor proceeds; the Father begets, the Son is begotten and the holy Spirit proceeds.” (From Canon 2)

This teaching is a drastic departure from the faith of the early church, and represents the culmination of what many in the Nicene era had feared might result from the introduction of ‘essence’ speculation into the church’s dogma. A council of fathers gathered in Antioch in 345 had specified their belief that the Father, Son, and Spirit were not “one supreme reality”, that is, one person, one individual rational being, but rather, three:

“Nor again, in confessing three realities and three persons, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost according to the Scriptures, do we therefore make Gods three; since we acknowledge the self-complete and unbegotten and unbegun and invisible God to be one only, the God and Father (John 20:17) of the Only-begotten, who alone has being from Himself, and alone vouchsafes this to all others bountifully.” (Macrostich)

Later in the same creed they went on to condemn the very view the 4th Lateran would later make dogma for the Roman churches:

“And those who say that the Father and Son and Holy Ghost are the same, and irreligiously take the three names of one and the same reality and person, we justly proscribe from the Church, because they suppose the illimitable and impassible Father to be also limitable and passable through His becoming man. For such are they whom Romans call Patripassians, and we Sabellians. For we acknowledge that the Father who sent, remained in the peculiar state of His unchangeable Godhead, and that Christ who was sent fulfilled the economy of the Incarnation.”

But one need not wait until the fourth century to find fathers who clearly taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit were not one numerically individual thing, one person. Second century father Justin Martyr, one of the earliest and best of the fathers, clearly understood the Father and Son to be numerically distinct persons, two distinct rational individual beings, not merely two names of or modes of one and the same reality:

“When Scripture says, ‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 29)

“And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 128)

“You perceive, my hearers, if you bestow attention, that the Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 129)

It is clear also, that Justin did not speak of merely his own opinion in these matters, but as an apologist, spoke on behalf of the Christians of his time; and anyone who wishes to, may read his contemporary fathers, and see their agreement.

Semi-modalism, then, in proclaiming the the persons of the Trinity are numerically one substance, one individual, is clearly at odds with both the original dogmatic conception of co-essentiality held by the Nicene fathers, which proclaimed co-essentiality to mean nothing more than a mere generic unity of nature between really distinct individuals, as well as being at odds with the faith of the ante-nicene fathers, going back as close to the apostles as we can find.

For a look at how this semi-modalistic conception of the Trinity is opposed to scripture itself, and the very fundamental tenets of the Christian faith it teaches, see here.

Another Example of Modern Trinitarianism Being Nothing More Than Modalism, Barely Disguised

“The word ‘person’ has changed its meaning since the third century when it began to be used in connection with the ‘threefoldness of God’. When we talk about God as a person, we naturally think of God as being one person. But theologians such as Tertullian, writing in the third century, used the word ‘person’ with a different meaning. The word ‘person’ originally derives from the Latin word persona, meaning an actor’s face-mask—and, by extension, the role which he takes in a play. By stating that there were three persons but only one God, Tertullian was asserting that all three major roles in the great drama of human redemption are played by the one and the same God. The three great roles in this drama are all played by the same actor: God. Each of these roles may reveal God in a somewhat different way, but it is the same God in every case. So when we talk about God as one person, we mean one person in the modern sense of the word, and when we talk about God as three persons, we mean three persons in the ancient sense of the word. … Confusing these two senses of the word ‘person’ inevitably leads to the idea that God is actually a committee.”

Alister E. McGrath, Understanding the Trinity, pp 130-131

The heresy represented in this quote, unfortunately, is not uncommon. The Trinity as a whole is made out to be one person in the modern sense- that is, one rational individual being, one individual intelligent agent, one “He”; while the Father, Son, and Spirit are deemed to be nothing more than mere “masks” of this one individual. This is the same insidious heresy of Sabellius, only slightly modified. This is semi-modalism, and it is damnable heresy; this needs to be said, not to show malice to those who hold it, but to warn men of the danger it presents.

Semi-modalism equivocates on what “person” means, as this quote shows. A semi-modalist will insist that they are not a modalist because the Father, Son, and Spirit are “three persons”- yet when they use the word ‘person’, they mean something other than what is normally meant by ‘person’. They equivocate by using a non-standard definition of the term, usually without making that clear, like McGrath does above.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are really three persons; not three modes, not three masks, of one and the self-same person, but are in fact and in truth three distinct rational individual beings. Scripture repeatedly teaches this: “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev. 6:16-17 NASB) “Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23 NASB). The fact that scripture uses plural personal pronouns in these verses requires us to understand that the Father and Son are two persons.

“If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true… the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.” John 5:31-32, 37 NKJV). The Son says here that He does not bear witness to Himself (v31). Yet He also says that the Father bears witness of Him- this require that He is a distinct person from His Father. The Father is not Him, but “another” Who can witness to Christ, without Christ witnessing to Himself. Were They the same person, the Father testifying to the Son would be the same as the Son testifying to Himself.

Semi-modalism is a dangerous heresy because making the Father, Son, and Spirit to be the masks or modes of one and the same person denies the central tenets of the Christian faith, by denying the real existence of the Son of the God, the one Mediator between God and man, apart from Whom no one can approach the Father.

“Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.” (Gal 3:20 NASB)

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim 2:5 NASB)

It is clear that no person can be a mediator between themselves and another; the very nature of what a mediator between two parties is, requires that the mediator be a third party. If Christ then is the mediator between God and man, then He cannot be the same person, the same individual rational being, as the God to Whom He intercedes. If the Son is the same “person” as the Father according to the normal usage of the word, that is, the same rational individual being as the Father, then He cannot be a mediator between God and man, for this would make the mediator and the party being mediated to one and the same, which is impossible. As the Son would in fact be the same person as the Father Who we need a Mediator to approach, we would in fact have no Mediator- and so according to scripture, it would be impossible to approach God.

And so the God of the semi-modalists is unapproachable; for by making the Son and Spirit out to not really be distinct persons, but one and the same individual being as the Father, they deny their real existence. They have no one to Mediate between them and their God, and no one to sanctify them, since they have made the Mediator, the Son, and the Sanctifier, the Spirit, to be the very same one that they need a Mediator and a Sanctifier to approach.

And likewise, semi-modalism denies that saving confession, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. For the Son of another is necessarily another person, Who relates to that other as a Son. But the semi-modalists deny that the Son is another rational individual being besides the Father, and so, they make Him the same rational individual being as the Father. The same being, then, the same person, according to the normal usage of the term, will then at once be made to be His own Father and His own Son, which is absurd; and while saying that He is both, they will actually make Him neither. So the one they call Son will relate to God, not as a Father, not as one individual being to another, Who is His Father, but will relate to God as His own self. By making the Son a mask and mode of the one God, they deny His real personal existence as a Son, which necessarily must be another rational individual being besides the one Whose Son He is. And so they deny the Lord, the Son of God, making Him a Son in name only and not in truth.

They say that the Father Who testifies to the Son is not another besides Him, but merely another mode of His own person, and so, they make the Son’s testimony false, for “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.” And so they make God out to be a liar.

Let this then serve as a warning of the deceitful equivocation of the heretics; for they will say that “God is three persons”, but the “God” they speak of is one person, one rational individual being, and the three “persons” they speak of are no persons at all, but mere masks, modes, roles, name, or internal relations of one person. They speak of a “triune God”, a “tripersonal God”, when in reality, the God they speak of, when they are honest, is only one person, and not three; and He has no true Son, the Son being made to be simply a mode of His own person, not another person Who relates to Him as a Father; and there will be no mediator to bring them to their “tripersonal God”, for having made their mediator to be nothing more than a mode of the very person they need a mediator to approach, they will have no true mediator, no third party, to bring them to God.

The Father’s Infinitude

“My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all.” John 10:29a NKJV

“My Father is greater than I.” John 14:28b NKJV

Since God is greater than all others, the greatness of all others has a limit. That can be illustrated by a simple observation:

God’s greatness cannot be exaggerated; the greatness of anything else can be exaggerated, since for if it were said to be as great as God, this would be false, and would be an exaggeration, since we know that God is greater than all else. Nothing else then is equal with Him in greatness, as He is greater than all; and so it would be an exaggeration of anything else’s greatness, to make it out to be equal with God’s greatness. There is then an upper limit to the greatness of all else besides God, that however great something is, it is not as great as the Father. God’s greatness, however, knows no limit.

While God has set the bounds and limitations of all things, He Himself is free, and independent; He does as He pleases. “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Ps 115:3 NASB). “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.” (Ps 135:6 NASB). These verses signify that God is free and independent, not limited by the permission or will or limitation of another. He is not subject to another, so as to be allowed to do some things, and limited from doing others; were He to experience some external limitation, it could not truly and absolutely be said of Him that He does as He pleases. The fact that God freely does as He wills, shows that He experiences no external limitation or bound whatsoever. He is therefore, infinite, then, inasmuch as He is beyond all external limitation and bound.

And so we see that God alone is infinite; for to be infinite is to be without limit or bound. While the Father Himself is free and subject to none, all things are subject to Him, and so, limited by His will. Just as God is shown to be infinite, on account of the fact that He is absolutely free and independent to do as He pleases, not being limited by the will of another, so it will also be seen from this, that He alone is infinite, because all other beings whatsoever do not know that same freedom and independence as God does, all of them being subject to God Himself. And this holds true, no matter what being we consider; for God is Almighty, that is ‘Pantokrator’, Ruler over all, absolutely. All things, then, being from Him, are subject to Him; not only all creation, which He made through His Son, but also His own Holy Spirit, and His own only-begotten Son. All things being subject to Him, nothing else in the universe is free and independent like He is, knowing no external limitation whatsoever. All other beings are limited by His own will, as to their very existence, and their own attributes, all things having their very existence and being from God, according to His good will. “Which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,” (1 Tm 6:15 NASB); As God alone is sovereign over all, all are subject to Him, and are then limited in some capacity or another by His rule and will.

The Son of God, here, is no exception; for although He shares in His Father’s dominion over the whole universe, yet He Himself is subject to His own Father, Who is His own God. “Go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.” (John 20:17b NASB). “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor 15:28 NASB). “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:3 NASB). And so the Son Himself is subject to the will of His Father. And that this subjection is a loving and willing subjection, makes it no less subjection; so that the Son, although we may suppose, is willingly so limited, is indeed truly limited, by the will of His own Father, on account of which He says “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19b NASB); and likewise He says “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 5:30 NASB). The Son Himself, then, teaches that He is limited by the will of His own Father, Who is His own God; and so, the difference is sufficiently shown, that while the Father is independent and free, limited by no other, and subject to no other, and so, is infinite, the Son is subject to the Father, and limited by His will. The Son the is not infinite like His Father, but it is demonstrated that the Father alone is unlimited and subject to none, and so, is alone infinite, knowing no external limit nor bound whatsoever.