"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Friday, July 07, 2006

Questions on the Godhead - Part 3

Okay, let's pick back up looking at "60 Questions on the Godhead" from the United Pentecostal Church International's website. The UPCI is one the the leading "Oneness" groups, meaning that they deny the doctrine of the Trinity and claim that the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit are merely different "manifestations" of the One God. This belief was condemned by the church in the third century, but, like the denial of Jesus' deity, continues to recur throughout church history.

Today, rather then just looking at the next several questions in a row, I want to pick out several related questions (all about Jesus and the Father) to address. There is one question (46) that is more about the relationship of the Father and the Holy Spirit that I will address (DV) in a later post.

8. Has the Christian only one Heavenly Father? Yes. Matthew 23:9.

9. Then why did Jesus say to Philip, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9)? Because Jesus is the express image of God's person. Hebrews 1:3. The Greek word for person in this verse literally means "substance." [Note: the ESV linked here translates the Greek word mentioned as "nature" not "person" as the KJV does.]

Question 8 is another question which really does not distinguish the Oneness view from the Trinitarian view. Both sides agree that there is only one Father in heaven. What is poor here is the reference to Matthew 23:9 (And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. - ESV).

Of course, question 8 was really just the set up for question 9. When the Trinitarian affirms question 8 to be true, the Oneness follower can use question 9 as a "gotcha." Or maybe not.

John 14:9, the payoff verse for those holding a Oneness view, says, "Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show us the Father"?'" (John 14:9 ESV) This verse is not a problem for the Trinitarian, though, percisely because of the second verse quoted in question 9: "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." (Hebrews 1:3 ESV)

What does Hebrews tell us? That the Son (Jesus) is the exact imprint of the Father's nature. So when we see the Son, we have in effect seen the Father. It is not saying, and neither is Jesus in John 14:9, that there is no distinction of persons in the Godhead. Jesus was telling Philip that to know Him was in effect to know the Father, since He is bears the Father's nature.

Hebrews 1:3 also states that the Son is the "radiance of the glory of God." The analogy here says that the relationship between the Father and the Son is like the relationship between the sun and its rays. When you look up into a clear daytime sky (ever so briefly because of the brilliance) do you see the sun, or the rays (radiance) of the sun? Can we distinguish the two visually? No, we cannot. So if we have seen the Son of God, we have seen the Father. Of course, all creaturely analogies fail at some point, since the creature is finite and God is infinite. So the relationship between God the Father and God the Son is not exactly like the relationship between the sun and its rays. But what we can say is that Jesus truly reveals to us the glory of the Father and therefore we can say we have seen the Father. But this does not mean that the Father and the Son are the same person.

13. Who is the Father? The Father is the one God, particularly as revealed in parental relationship to humanity. Deuteronomy 32:6; Malachi 2:10.

14. Where was God the Father while Jesus was on earth? The Father was in Christ. John 14:10; II Corinthians 5:19. He was also in heaven, for God is omnipresent.

15. Did the prophet Isaiah say that Jesus would be the Father? Yes. Isaiah 9:6; 63:16.

Question 13 is again a setup question, which Trinitarians clearly affirm. Question 14 is also a statement that Trinitarians would affirm, however, see the note on 2 Corinthians 5:19 at the end of the post. Also, Trinitarians clearly affirm that God is everywhere.

So the crucial question in this block is question 15. Let's look at what Isaiah says. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (ESV) I will admit that this is among the most difficult verses from a Trinitarian standpoint. But Scripture must interpret Scripture, and if many other passages (see below) teach Trinitarianism, what is Isaiah saying here? First, we should note that in the context Isaiah is not dealing with the nature of God. Second, Isaiah's concern is with the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, the king who is coming to sit on David's throne forever ("the government shall be upon his shoulder"). In light of that, Isaiah is telling us that this Ruler will rule forever with a Father's love. Jesus uses a similar parenting analogy in Luke 13:34.

Isaiah 63:16 ("For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name." - ESV) is not a clear reference to Jesus, and I think in context is better seen as addressing the Father. If there is confusion about the Father being called "our Redeemer" I will, DV, address this when it specifically comes up in the "60 Questions" latter in our study.

52. Did Jesus ever say, "I and my Father are one?" Yes. John 10:30.

53. Can it be proved scripturally that Jesus and the Father are one in the same sense that husband and wife are one? No. The Godhead was never compared to the relationship of a husband and wife. Jesus identified Himself with the Father in a way that husband and wife cannot be identified with each other. John 14:9-11.

In this case, it is the second question (53) that is not controversial. It is those who wish to deny the fully deity of Jesus who will typically use the marriage metaphor for the relationship of the Father and the Son. But question 52 as stated is not controversial either. Trinitarians are Biblical inerrantists and would affirm that Jesus said that He and the Father are one. The disagreement between Trinitarians and those who hold to a Oneness view of God is what Jesus means when He says that.

What does Jesus mean? Latter in John's gospel we read, "And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one." (ESV) Here Jesus says he wants believers to have the same "oneness" with one another that He and the Father share. Is this a oneness that means believers are to have no distinctions? No, not at all. But we are to have a unity of purpose.

This is most clearly stated by Paul in Ephesians, where the unity of the body is a central theme of the letter. Paul writes: "There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV) So John 10:30 does not prove that the Oneness view of God is correct.

Primarily, I have been defensive in these posts, reviewing the questions put forth by the UPCI and responding them. But as I close I would like to start asking a few questions of my own:

Question I: Paul, in 1 Corinthians 8:6, writes, "yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist." (ESV) While affirming both are deity, "God" and "Lord," doesn't this verse indicate that there is some distinction between the Father and Jesus? Yes, it does affirm the deity of both the Father and the Son and their distinctions of person.

Question II: Are there not verses where the Father converses with the Son, indicating a difference in persons, and not merely different manifestations of a single person? Yes, in at least Matthew 22:44, Hebrews 1:5, and Acts 13:34, not to mention many verses in the gospels where Jesus speaks to the Father.

Question III: Why is John 1:1 essentially ignored by the "60 Questions"? Because a Oneness view of God does not do justice to John's assertion that, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (ESV) How is a manifestation that doesn't occur until 2000 years ago in any sense with God in the beginning? Trinitarianism is the only view of God that does justice to John 1:1. The Word, before being incarnated into human flesh, God the Son, was with God from all eternity. But the Word is not less God than the Father, for the Word is God from before the beginning, because in the beginning He already "was God."

How, you may want to ask, can this be? How can two persons exist with the same essence? (Of course, there is actually a third person who is fully God, the Holy Spirit, but we will address that later, DV.) All I can do is point you back to Deuteronomy - "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV)

Closing note on 2 Corinthians 5:19: The KJV translation of this verse ("To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." KJV) is confusing. The more literal rendering is done in the ESV - "that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." This verse is not affirming that God was in Christ, but that through the person and work of Christ God reconciles the world to Himself. This is not to dispute the point that the New Testament teaches that God was in Christ, as we have already acknowledged that John 14:10 teaches this truth.

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