Thursday, March 13, 2008

Heresy Alert

Stop reading right now if you don't want to risk the fires of hell . . .

Still with me? You are brave!

So, who has heard of the trinity? Raise you hands. Ok, that's most of you. Did you also know that the word 'trinity' doesn't show up anywhere in the Bible? The word was invented by one of the early leaders of the church to help describe how Jesus can be God and the Holy Spirit can be God and the Father can be God, but there's only one God.

Not much heresy yet, but hold on. I'm in class right now learning about the gospel of John. It starts off talking about how the Word and God are one in the same and Jesus is the Word. It pretty clearly states that Jesus=Word=God, but the next thing that a good, orthodox trinitarian will point out is that the Son is a different person of the trinity from the Father.

Here’s where I might be a little bit of a heretic: I’m not sure that I can affirm the separate personhood for each member of the trinity. That would make me a modalist or sabellian in some form (and they are all heretics in the classic sense). That means that I see Jesus incarnation as an expression of God and the Holy Spirit as a mode in which God acts, but that there is not necessarily a distinctive person at work in each of these cases.

The main argument against modalism is that Jesus died on the cross, yet the world did not cease to be. How could God be dead and in the grave and still continue to act to raise Jesus from the dead? My response to this: what’s the big deal? If God created the world with a Word, then how is it hard for us to accept that he can be dead? Is this any more difficult to accept than a convoluted explanation of God being three-persons with one essence?

What I like about modalism is that it allows a much easier identification of God’s presence and activity in the Old Testament. The Spirit of the LORD hovers over the waters in Genesis. The Angel (messenger, or word-bearer) of the LORD speaks to his people. We see that God has always interacted with his people in the manner that is best for his people.

Who wants to be a heretic with me?


Tammie's Thoughts said...

What are you taking this week and who is your teacher? That's a little different way to look at things...something to ponder....

Mark said...

I love modalism. I want so badly to be a modalist, but I really do feel like Scripture favors a Trinitarian understanding of God.

I love the idea of God being like a person who wears different hats. Now he's Father, sometimes he's son, sometimes he is Spirit.

Two situations I don't think modalism adequately explains are:
1. Jesus' baptism when all three persons are present and talking about each other.
2. Jesus' prayer in the garden where his own will seems different than the Father's, yet he submits to it.

Being a rational person, I don't like the mystery and complexity of a God who is simultaneously 3 and 1, but it does seem to be the God that Scripture teaches me. I think.


James T Wood said...

Tammie: I'm taking the gospel of John from Dr. Black. He doesn't think this - this is just something I've been thinking through on my own and there are some passages in John that bring up the issue.

Mark: It's hard for me see the validity of your critique because it is based on our limited understanding of personhood and individuality. Can we not just say that God is able to transcend our understanding of individuality and to be in three places at the same time?

I also would like to move to a view of theology/doctrine that seeks to describe the indescribably God. What I mean by that is: I want to use trinitarian language to talk about God alongside modalist language - God's nature does not change, just the words we use. So when your trinitarian beliefs get a little hard to swallow you can come be a modalist with me and when my modalist beliefs don't "adequately explain" things, then I'll speak some trinitarian language.

Sound good?

Mark said...


I think we're both arguing for similar things: that God can indeed transcend our understandings of person hood and individuality. I just feel like Modalism tends to overemphasize the unity of God, when Scripture does seem to suggest that there are some sorts of separations between the persons of God. (Even if our concepts of individualism are inadequate, they are what we have to work with.) If God is only one being with no diversity in himself, then in the two instances cited above, he does seem to have some sort of multiple personality disorder.

I reject Arianism, which is the other extreme that allows complete separation of the persons of God. Trinitarianism seems to ride the fence in between; at least as I understand Trinitarianism.

I think the correct understanding is that God is both One and Three. Modalism says God isn't really Three, and Arianism says God isn't really One.

I think it is important that God is difficult to grasp and define. If God is too simple, I'm afraid he's not big enough to be the God of Scripture.

Just reading your thoughts, I don't think we disagree on this by much. Glad I'm not the only one who finds the regular doctrines of God a little hard to swallow.

I do like your idea about using more Modalist language in how we speak of the actions of God. It's important that we see all three consenting and involved in the actions of any particular one. Several passages in John definitely affirm their connectedness. "In in the Father, the Father in Me, Me in you, you in me, etc."

This was a brave post you made, indeed. :-)

Hope all is well for you out West,

Mark <><

Adam Pastor said...

Greetings James

The problem is, that in a nutshell, BOTH modalism and "God being three-persons, a trinity" is wrong. BOTH doctrines are wrong & unscriptural!

Both doctrines appeared hundreds of years after the ascension of Christ.
Both doctrines try to explain how Jesus can be both God and man at the same time!! The Godman!!

But the original faith which was once delivered unto the saints [Jude 3] did not suffer from this problem.

The original faith has always been ...

that there is solely ONE GOD,
the Father.
And Jesus of Nazareth, is the one man, the one human being whom
Almighty GOD raised from the dead, made him, both Lord and Christ, and
exalted him to His right hand.

Hence, Jesus of Nazareth is
the Lord Jesus Christ,
a man approved of Almighty GOD,
who is currently at the right of the ONE GOD in the heavens. Whom we
await for his return.

(1 Cor 8:4) ... there is none other God but one.
(1 Cor 8:6) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him;
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

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

(1 Th 1:9-10) For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; 10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.

Immortality means deathlessness; it means you cannot die.
ALMIGHTY GOD alone possesses immortality inherently. [1 Tim 6.16]
HE did not and neither can He die; anymore than He can lie. [Heb 6.18]

However, by His power and spirit, He caused His human son to be begotten in the womb of Mary.
Thus, the man Christ Jesus, the Son of GOD, died for our sins.
The ONE GOD, the Father, raised him from the dead, glorified him, and made him,
"Lord of all!"
[Acts 2.36, 10.36; Phil 2.11]

So there is no "God in three-persons."
Neither is there a "God acting in three modes."
Both are equally wrong.

There is ONE GOD, the Father.
[1 Cor 8.4,6]
who is the ONLY TRUE GOD.
[John 17.3]

The Lord Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the ONE GOD;
the Son of the Father.
[2 John 3]

Jesus is not a godman (as propagated by both doctrines)
He is the man Christ Jesus.

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

Hundreds of years after the pure, true, apostolic faith was propagated;
Greek, Hellenistic and pagan philosophy/doctrines changed the human
Jesus into a demigod then into a godman.
And in response, both the doctrines of the trinity and modalism tried to solve this self-inflicted problem.

The solution then, is to return to the pure faith and doctrine as
taught in the Scriptures:

that there is solely ONE GOD, the Father.
And there is solely one man, one human, whom the ONE GOD has made
"Lord of all", the man Messiah Jesus.

James, may I suggest that one can prayerfully begin this journey of recovery by viewing a helpful video at

The Human Jesus

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor