God’s ‘Preferred Pronouns’

As the world constantly strives to become more and more politically-correct, the issue of “preferred pronouns” has been receiving increased attention, especially in light of an increased societal focus on gender identification. In some states in the U.S. it is now punishable by law for a caregiver to knowingly and repeatedly continue to use pronouns that signify a person’s biological gender if they choose to identify as being another gender.

Although usually the recent crusade for using ‘preferred pronouns’ is one that accompanies sexual immorality and personal confusion as to an individual’s God-given biological gender, it is interesting to note that increasingly radicals of various stripes have also begun using pronouns for God that differ from His obvious ‘preferred pronouns’. God of course, being without a body by nature, and not composed of parts as we, does not have a biological gender.  But He has chose to reveal Himself, and His Son, in scripture using a particular pattern of human pronouns nonetheless, that does carry with it meaning. That is what I hope to briefly examine in this article.

Pronouns serve as a placeholder for proper names grammatically. Instead of constantly repeating a name every time we want to refer to an individual, pronouns allow us to refer to an individual by an often shorter fill-in for their proper name. Pronouns can carry various sorts of grammatical significance, including possession, gender, and number. When it comes to God’s ‘preferred pronouns’ I want to specifically examine both gender and number.

Starting with gender, we have already noted that since God is by nature incorporeal and without parts, when God refers to Himself by terms that signify gender these cannot be understood in a literal way so as to imply that God does have a body with some sort of biological gender. That God always uses masculine pronouns for Himself, however, does carry significance. In scripture, the male gender is associated with headship, authority, and strength. Scripture expressly says that “man is the head of woman” (1 Cor 11). It also refers to the woman as a “weaker vessel” than man (1 Pet 3). So when God chooses to reveal Himself using masculine pronouns, we should see those associations with headship and power, although obviously God as being infinite and transcendent is far beyond man’s power and authority.

That is why it is wrong to use feminine pronouns for God. God has not revealed Himself that way for a reason. It is because submission and weakness are naturally and biblically associated with the female gender.

Next we examine number. Personal pronouns break down into plural plural pronouns like “they” and “them” and singular pronouns like “he” and “him”. God’s usage of pronouns in scripture show us a pattern: when plural divine persons are spoken of, plural pronouns are used. And when God speaks of a single person, singular personal pronouns are used.

This may sound too simplistic to need to be made a point of, but unfortunately, semi-modalists have set out to twist this pattern of preferred pronouns to distort the truth. Although God uses plural pronouns for plural persons in scripture, such as when He said to the Son “Let Us make man in our image” in Genesis, these semi-modalists, based on their unbiblical presupposition that all three persons of the Trinity are ultimately a single person, prefer to use a singular pronoun. You will hear them say things like “He is Father, Son, and Spirit.

This usage of pronouns not only breaks with the biblical pattern that God has given us in His infallible word regarding how He ought ot be spoken of, but carries with it an obvious false implication: that the three real persons of the Trinity are all one person.

Just as the radical feminists and liberals who have taken to referring to the Father as “she” need to repent of their blasphemy and false teaching, so also those who would refer to the persons of the Trinity together as though a single person, using “He”, and “Him” for all three persons together, must repent likewise of their blasphemy and tacit false teaching.

Eternal Generation Proved from the Scriptures

It is important for the sake a sure knowledge of the truth to really see every point of doctrine proved from scripture. Our beliefs, after all, must rest in something greater than the mere opinions of men.

It is for that reason that I’ve decided it would be good to put together a brief demonstration of the doctrine of eternal generation from the scriptures below.

The doctrine of eternal generation states that the Son was begotten of the Father before and outside of time, and is therefore a distinct and inseparable person from the Father, eternally of the same divine nature as He. Now lets see each part of this definition proved from the infallible scriptures:

The Son was begotten of the Father:

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 KJV)

“ For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18 KJV)

“The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He had made the earth, and before He had made the deeps, before the springs of the waters had issued forth, before the mountains had been established. Before all the hills He begets me.” (Proverbs 8:22-25)

The Son was with the Father prior to creation:

“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5 NAS)

Time is created (thus the begetting of the Son is atemporal, having taken place before time):

“in these last days did speak to us in a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He did make the ages;” (Hebrews 1:2 YLT)

The Father communicated His divine nature to the Son while Himself remaining unchanged:

“for, as the Father hath life in himself, so He gave also to the Son to have life in himself,” (John 5:26 YLT)

The Son is a distinct person from the Father:

“And God saith, `Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let them rule over fish of the sea, and over fowl of the heavens, and over cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that is creeping on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26 YLT)

“Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;” (Genesis 19:24 KJV)

“If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.””And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.” (John 5:31, 37 KJV)

The Son is inseparable from the Father:

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21 KJV)

“But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.” (John 10:38 KJV)

Athanasius Highlights

Especially in light of the misnamed “Athanasian Creed” and its consistent usage by semi-modalists to sum up their belief, it would perhaps not be difficult to suppose that Athanasius believed that version of pseudo-trinitarianism that passes for the doctrine of the Trinity since the time of Augustine: the variant of modalism I have taken to calling semi-modalism.

But actually, Athanasius very explicitly supported the biblical doctrine that the one God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. This should not surprise us at all when we consider that Athanasius not only helped frame, but also spent his life defending the Nicene Creed, which very explicitly defines that the identity of the one God is the person of the Father.

In truth if there is really a creed that deserves the label “Athanasian”, it is the Nicene Creed, given all that Athanasius sacrificed to defend and champion it. But here are several quotes from various writing of Athanasius in which his belief in this point of doctrine can also be seen. Let’s examine some highlights from among them:

“He it is who through His Word made all things small and great, and we may not divide the creation, and says this is the Father’s, and this the Son’s, but they are of one God, who uses His proper Word as a Hand, and in Him does all things. This God Himself shews us, when He says, ‘All these things hath My Hand made;’ while Paul taught us as he had learned, that ‘There is one God, from whom all things; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things.” (Defense of the Nicene Definition, Chapter III.)

Here we see Athanasius argue that all creation cannot be divided up into what was created by God versus what what created by His Son, but that rather we must understand that all creation is the work of the one God- the Father- through His one Son, His Word. Notice that he explicitly speaks of the Word here as the Word of the one God, clearly equating the one God and the Father, using the names “one God” and “Father” as synonymous.

”But if this is not to be seen, but while the creatures are many, the Word is one, any one will collect from this, that the Son differs from all, and is not on a level with the creatures, but proper to the Father. Hence there are not many Words, but one only Word of the one Father, and one Image of the one God.” (Against the Arians, Discourse II.)

Here again we see a direct equation made between the “one Father” and the “one God”. The following quotes are also clear on this:

“For there is One God, and not many, and One is His Word, and not many; for the Word is God, and He alone has the Form of the Father.” (Against the Arians, Discourse III.)

“For the Word, being Son of the One God, is referred to Him of whom also He is; so that Father and Son are two, yet the Monad of the Godhead is indivisible and inseparable. And thus too we preserve One Beginning of Godhead and not two Beginnings, whence there is strictly a Monarchy” (Against the Arians, Discourse IV.)

“For the one God makes and creates; but Him He begets from Himself, Word or Wisdom.” (Against the Arians, Discourse IV.)

“The Triad, then, although the Word took a body from Mary, is a Triad, being inaccessible to addition or diminution; but it is always perfect, and in the Triad one Godhead is recognised, and so in the Church one God is preached, the Father of the Word.” (To Epictetus)

If you would like to see more of these quotes from not only Athanasius himself, but many other church fathers, please see my extensive collection of them available for viewing here: https://nicenefaith.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/i-believe-in-one-god-the-father-almighty/

Does teaching the Father is the one God undermine the divinity of Christ?

A potential misunderstanding of the matter easily leads a person to think at first glance that teaching the doctrine that the one God is the Father somehow undermines the doctrinal truth of the Son’s full divinity. While I hope to show below that this is absolutely not the case, I first want to acknowledge that the objection can be brought up with a certain amount of apparent validity.

Many heretical sects teach that the Father is the one God to the denial of the Son’s divinity. The most notorious of these would be Arians and others who follow variations of Arius’s teachings, such as modern JWs. The various sects of the Jews and Muslims also tend to make use of passages in the scriptures that teach the identicality of the one God with the Father to argue against the fact that the scriptures teach the divinity of the Jesus Christ. These false teachers’ misuse of the biblical data to argue against the truth gives an understandable reason for some to be hesitant when they hear a trinitarian speaking the same way.

But we must also remember that it is the ordinary tactic of false teachers to blend their errors with truth, as one might hide poison in something sweet, in order to make their error seem palatable. There is a danger then to be acknowledged in disregarding everything that a given heretic believes as automatically being false. Were we to take this to an extreme, in most cases we would even be required to reject the scriptures because the heretics make use of them in addition to true Christians.

We must not, then, throw out the baby with the bathwater. The truth that the Father is the one God does not in truth undermine the doctrine of the Son’s divinity at all: rather, when properly understood, it implies it and serves as a doctrinal support for it.

That reasoning goes something like this: The Father is the one God. Therefore, the Son is the Son of the one God. Therefore, the Son must be God in nature just as the Father is, eternally of the same divine nature as He.

Now allow me to break that down a little more. Here we are dealing with the historic trinitarian doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, the implications of which are enormous. In plain English it is the doctrine that Christ is the Son of God, not in name only, nor as a figurative “Son”, nor because He has been adopted by the Father, but because He was begotten of the Father before creation. This is what scripture is referring to when it speaks of Jesus Christ as the “only-begotten” Son of God. Its telling you what kind of Son Jesus is: an only-begotten one.

That stands in contrast to us as creatures. Believers are indeed called children of God by the scriptures, which reveal Him as our adoptive Father. But we remain of a creaturely, human nature. We aren’t somehow of the same divine nature as God because we are adopted as God’s children. But Christ isn’t adopted; He is Son because He was begotten by God, before and outside of time (this should remove all thought of chronological sequence from our understanding of this event). The fact that He is begotten logically necessitates that we understand Christ to be of exactly the same divine nature as the Father.

To prove this point, let us merely consider fatherhood in creation, which scripture tells us is modeled after God’s own fatherhood of the Son (Eph 3:14-15). Everything begets after its own kind. Birds beget birds. Men beget men. There is always necessarily an identically of nature between that which is begotten and that which begets. “What is begotten of spirit is spirit and what is begotten of flesh is flesh” Jesus taught in John 3:6.

This concept has historically been referred to by theologians using the philosophical language of “consubstantiality”, or “co-essentiality”, which each mean the same thing. The Greek word behind this term, “homoousias”, was used by the Nicene Council in the Creed they composed to indicate the exact identically and sameness of the divine nature of the Son with that of the Father (Who they call the one God). They grounded that teaching in the eternal generation of the Son:

“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before the ages; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of the same essence [homoousias] as the Father, by whom all things were made.”

This doctrine of eternal generation is crucial to rightly understanding the doctrine of the Trinity. This is in large part because it teaches us that if the Son is truly begotten of the Father, He must necessarily be of the same divine nature as Him. This is certain proof for the Son’s eternal Godhood. So let’s bring this back to the one God being the Father: according to this paradigm, the Son being the Son of the one God, by means of eternal generation, logically necessitates that we understand the Son to be of the exact same divine nature as the one God Who begat Him.

This doesn’t then undermine the Son’s divinity at all. In fact if the one God is eternally Father, which He is, then He must eternally have a Son. And the fact that this Son was eternally begotten of Him proves that He is eternally of the very same divine nature. The real question to ask the one who believes that the one God is the Father and yet denies the divinity of the Son is this: in what sense do you really believe that the one God is Father? In name only? Or is He really, eternally Father because He begat the Son before the ages, as the Nicene Creed teaches? If this is so (and it is), then His Son must necessarily be divine, of no other nature than that of the one God Who begat Him. The fact is, you cannot reasonably believe that the one God is the Father without also believing the full and eternal divinity of the Son as well.

Dr. Sam Waldron on the one God being the Father in particular

While the doctrine that the person of the one God is the Father in particular has fallen on hard times (for a very long time), there are a few modern theologians from varying traditions that have noted this fact. The first of several I hope to share on this blog is a Confessional Baptist pastor-theologian named Dr. Sam Waldron, who is also the President of Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dr. Waldron’s denominational standards, the 1689 London Baptist Confession, unfortunately, do not agree with the statements quoted below. Instead they explicitly state semi-modalistic beliefs, as I hope to examine in another post. While Dr. Waldron has expressed his agreement with the problematic articulation of the Trinity found in the 1689 London Baptist Confession, in his blog series ‘Who’s Tampering With the Trinity’ he avoids the pitfalls of the confession and instead witnesses to the pure biblical trinitarianism of the early church, even though he expresses contrary opinions in other writings.

He does this in the third installment of a series of blog posts he authored back in 2011 on the topic of the Trinity. Since this installment is relatively short and his observations are valuable, I have decided to quote the post at length below. The original can be found at: https://cbtseminary.org/whos-tampering-with-the-trinity-3/

Dr. Waldron writes:

“I suspect that many evangelicals today would choke on the very first words of the Nicene Creed—if they are really thought about what they were confessing. Here is the first paragraph of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”

How far many of us have drifted from historic Trinitarianism is revealed by how queasy these words make us feel when we think about. “Surely,” we think, “The Son is also the Maker of heaven and earth. And does the Nicene Creed really mean to say that there is some distinct sense that we are to identify the Father as God? Does this imply that the Son and Spirit are not God?”

If these kinds of questions and concerns come to us when we really think about what we are confessing in the Nicene Creed, it should make us wonder if we have really understood and whether we entirely hold the historic Trinitarian creed. So what are we missing?

We are missing, first of all, that the creed is squarely biblical. In a number of important passages when the persons of the Trinity are being delineated the Father is given the personal name, God.

This happens in John 1:1-2: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The context of these verses it is to be noted is not the economy of redemption. Orthodox Christians read these verses as speaking of the period at the beginning of the creation of the world. One cannot read into them the incarnation and the economy of redemption in which The Son became a man. They are speaking of the Trinitarian relationships which existed before the creation of the world—at the beginning. In speaking of these eternal relationships describes one person of the Trinity as “the God.” (The Greek definite article is present in both occurrences of the prepositional phrase, “with God,” in these verses.) The Apostle describes the other person of the Trinity as “the Word.” So in these verses you have two persons: “the God” and “the Word.” Both of these persons possess the entire divine essence. The Word is as to His substance and being God. Yet in the language of these verses, He is not “the God.” Clearly, in some distinct personal sense the Father is God, while the eternal and divine Son is “His” Word. Thus, the Nicene Creed confesses and must confess: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”

Another illustration of this way of describing the Father is found in one of the most important assertions of the Trinity in the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 13:14 contains this Trinitarian benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” Exegetes have often noted the unusual order of this benediction in which the Son is mentioned first, the Father is mentioned second, and the Holy Spirit is mentioned third. Egalitarian Trinitarians have leaped to the conclusion that this means there is no particular order in the Trinity. This conclusion is misguided for a lot of obvious reasons. First, it ignore that there is a common, ordinary, and dominant order in the mention of the person of the Trinity in the New Testament. It is usually Father, then Son, and then sometimes Holy Spirit. It is simply wrong to use the unusual order of 2 Corinthians 13:14 to contradict and undo this usual order and deny that there is a particular order in the eternal Trinity. Other objections to this use of 2 Corinthians 13:14 might be mentioned, but the true explanation of the order of this benediction is that the Father is here given the central position in the benediction. The grace of the Son is traced up to the love of the Father and brought down all the way down to us in the fellowship of the Spirit. So even in the order of this benediction the first-ness of the Father is maintained. And what makes this so clear is the name given to the Father here. He is not called the Father in this benediction. In language which echoes John 1:1-2 he is called “the God.” How can we miss the implication that in some sense the Father occupies the first place among the persons of the Trinity? That is why the Nicene Creed must confess first its faith in “one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.””

Myriad Modalists

Statistics are always tricky, but according to some estimates there are about 330 million “oneness pentecostals” worldwide. For those not familiar with the group, their theology is that of classical modalism. This would not account for all the additional classical modalists in other traditions.

Given these numbers, it is interesting to note that classical modalists today outnumber JWs by about 42:1. I think that’s interesting given the fact that it seems like so much attention and energy in the church is given to combatting the heresies taught by the watchtower association, and yet I see relatively little directed against modalism.

Of course, if semi-modalism were included in these statistics, the numbers would be off the chart. But it’s worth noting that at least in terms of numbers the neo-arianism of the JWs is not nearly as big of a threat to the contemporary church as modalism is.

Modalism has evolved

Modalism has evolved into something more difficult to fight against. Initially it made a simple claim that the one God simply manifests his person differently at different times; sometimes as Father, other times as Son, other times as Spirit. “Father”, “Son”, and “Spirit” were all held to ultimately be different names for the same person.

This is a fairly obviously false doctrine and its not a heresy that’s hard to disprove. The scriptures clearly speak of the persons of the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Spirit) as three distinct persons. There is such an abundance of these instances that I think it is not even necessary to cite any here. A cursory reading of the Bible makes it perfectly clear that the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father, nor are they the Spirit nor is the Spirit them. They are three truly distinct persons, of one divine nature, and eternally inseparable from one another; but truly distinct nonetheless.

Semi-modalism is the next variation of modalism to sweep the church and it is significantly more crafty and dangerous. It hides behind orthodox language to sound as close as possible to orthodoxy as it possibly can. It keeps the fundamental tenet of modalism unchanged- that the one God is one person, who somehow turns out to be Father, Son, and Spirit. But instead of saying they are just modes or roles he takes at different times according to his will, they say that he permanently, or even by nature, exists as all three at the same time. This one person manages to eternally exist as three persons, in their thinking. The next trick they pull: deny that the one person is a person.

In doing this, they sound totally orthodox. They can say that they really believe in nearly everything an orthodox trinitarian does. Do they believe in three distinct persons? Absolutely, they say. Do they hold them all to be co-essential, that is, of the same divine nature? Yes. Do they hold that all three are co-eternal and inseparable from one another? Yep. They sound nearly perfectly orthodox.

But their blasphemous error can be revealed not simply by asking what part of the truth they don’t believe, but what they add to it. They believe in three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Spirit. They say they believe in the Trinity. But they also believe that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all one person. They usually don’t use that language, because they know it sounds heretical and insane to say that the one God is one person who is three persons. But they do in truth believe that, and think of God that way.

What evidence can be seen to give this away? One of the greatest things that shows this is their persistent use of singular personal pronouns for all three persons of the Trinity as a group. If the Father, Son, and Spirit are three persons, then they are referred to, according to the rules of grammar, by the term “they”: a plural personal pronoun. This is consistent with the fact that there is a plural number of persons- namely three. But when the semi-modalist refers to the three persons together they are referred to as “he”. “He is Father, Son, and Spirit” they will say of the one God.

They will call this person by certain names. Some of old called him “God the Trinity”- clearly marking their belief that the Trinity, that group of three divine persons, is itself a single person. Today the name “triune God” is in vogue. They will speak of this “triune God” always as a person, but nearly never openly admitting that he is such. Most will openly deny it if they are questioned. But they always call this “triune God” “he” and “him”: always singular personal pronouns are used. This betrays their true belief.

A few of these heretics have been so brave to come out and openly say that they believe the Trinity is a person. Cornelius Van Til did. He was rightly criticized for being a heretic; yet many of those criticizing him have nothing to boast in as being any better than him except that they do not come out and openly say what they think, but are determined to mask their belief behind orthodox language. Their denials betray the fact that their belief is shameful. Their inconsistency is obvious. They call him a heretic for saying openly that the Trinity is a person while they themselves constantly refer to the Trinity as a person by referring to it with singular personal pronouns.

What must be looked at here is not merely verbage, although the words used certainly matter a great deal, and must be contended for. But what is actually believe must be examined. These false teachers are experts in twisting words to serve them and sounding like they are orthodox. But the substance of their belief, when you get down to it, is that the one God is a single person they can interact with, worship, glorify, and pray to, who is himself both the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The heart of their belief is not different than that of classical modalism. It has simply evolved, and its fooled so many. Don’t be one of them.

The Bible is really quite clear concerning who the one God is, and its really among the most basic doctrines of Christianity. Yet it seems that in some circles a knowledge of it is nearly lost. The one God is the Father. The one God is a person: He is a “He”. The error does not lie in thinking of Him and interacting with Him as a person; the problem lies in failing to recognise that person as the Father. He is the one who is the eternal Father of the Son, and the adoptive Father of all the saints. That is Who the one God is. That’s what’s missing from most people’s’ formulation of trinitarian doctrine. That’s what the semi-modalists lack that they require.

Want proof the one God is the Father, from scripture? Check out my post on that topic for explicit proof from scripture and historic testimony from the ancient Christian church. This doctrine is biblical, and not at all novel. See for yourself at: https://nicenefaith.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/i-believe-in-one-god-the-father-almighty/