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.