The Holy Trinity: How Can God be One and Three

Table of Contents

The Holy Trinity: How Can God be One and Three. 3
Modalism and the Oneness Pentecostals. 4
Debate Concerning the Holy Trinity. 5
Facts against Modalism.. 8
Conclusion. 9
Notes. 11
Bibliography. 12
The Holy Trinity: How Can God be One and Three
The subject of the Trinity has been a subject that has garnered much debate over the centuries, and different Christian denominations and sects have embraced the understanding of it in different ways. The Holy Trinity, according to the Bible, symbolizes the three beings that represent God, which are, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is one of the founding ideals or beliefs of Christianity[1]. The Trinity is emphasized in the Pentecostal Movement, which was built upon the belief that all should have a one on one experience with God through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It acts an umbrella movement that under which are many church groupings of different cultures and theologies. Many of them are affiliated with the Pentecostal World Conference. The Pentecostals emphasize on the charismata, which are the spiritual gifts, given to man by the Holy Spirit.
In the Pentecostal movement, there are two schools of thought as concerns the Holy Trinity. There are the Trinitarians and the Non-Trinitarians. Trinitarians believe that God exists in three beings or entities but is one God; they also believe that all the Son and the Holy Spirit posses the same ability and nature as God the Father[2]. They refute the common belief that God the Father is a greater being, and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are lesser beings. Non-Trinitarians, on the other hand, reject all the Holy Trinity teachings, that God exists in three persons. Under the Non-Trinitarians, there are several denominations and groupings like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarian Universalist Christians, the Christian Scientists, the Christadelphians, the Iglesia ni Cristo, the Latter Day Saint movement, United Church of God, and the Oneness Pentecostals.

Modalism and the Oneness Pentecostals

Modalism is also known as Sabellianism. It is the denial that the three beings of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, are three distinct beings in one. It agrees that the three beings of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each represent God, but that these modes existed consecutively: God manifested himself as the Father in the Old Testament, then incarnated himself to the Son in the New Testament, then took up the form of the Holy Spirit after Christ’s ascension. It denies that the three beings can exist together simultaneously representing God. Modalists argue that the only number that described God was One, and that Three was never significantly ascribed to God in the scriptures. The Oneness Pentecostals of the Pentecostal Church Movement illustrate this type of Christianity.
In the Oneness Pentecostals date back to 1914, when there were doctrinal disputes in the Pentecostal movement. Today, the Oneness Pentecostals are suspected to have approximately 24 million followers. In many aspects, the Oneness Pentecostals are similar to other Pentecostal denominations, for example, they believe in baptism in the name of Jesus Christ[3]. However, they are inclined to emphasis on strict standards of holiness; this is seen in things like dress, grooming, and personal conduct. Other Pentecostal groups tend to be lenient in this area. Another area where the Oneness Pentecostals differ from the rest of the Pentecostals is in the interpretation of salvation. Most of the Pentecostal groups state that to receive salvation, one only has to have faith in Jesus Christ for salvation;  the oneness Pentecostals, on the other hand, state that the process of receiving salvation involves repentance, baptism in Jesus name, and the receipt of the Holy Spirit[4]. The United Pentecostal Church falls under the Oneness Pentecostals. According to them, Trinitarians are lost people and that they are the ones who shall be saved.

Debate Concerning the Holy Trinity

In the debate concerning the Holy Trinity, the Oneness Pentecostals forward this argument: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are clearly three distinct beings that have very distinct roles. When described, they sound like three totally different entities that are not related. God the Father is usually imagined or described as a great and powerful elderly man with a beard comes to mind. God the Son is pictured as a middle-aged man of middle-eastern or white origin, who has long hair. God the Holy Spirit is pictured like a ghost. Reconciling these three beings as one when considering the above differences, has proven to be difficult. It does not make logical sense.
As pertains to their roles, from the limited information that we have, God the Father’s role has been seen to be that of the creator and judge of all humanity. He is also seen as the creator of all features and animals. In the book of Exodus 19 in the Bible, the Israelites at one time had requested to meet their maker. Moses had been the one who kept going to meet God on Mount Sinai. God then told Moses to tell them that they were to consecrate themselves and wash themselves clean if    He was to come upon Mount Sinai three days after the Israelites were told to consecrate themselves. They were even to wash their clothes in preparation to behold God. God told Moses to put up limits all around the mountain that the people were not supposed to go past. They were not to come exceedingly near the mountain or touch the mountain; anyone who touched the mountain was to be killed through stoning and the use of arrows. No hand was supposed to touch people who fell into such predicaments. They were also to abstain from sexual relations. The people followed the instruction that they were given without question, not knowing what to expect.
On the third day, God came down on the mountain, and there was thunder and lightning, and a thick cloud of smoke on the summit if the mountain. A loud trumpet blast was also heard. All of this caused the Israelites to tremble. They had not seen the greatness of God before, and now that they had, they were extremely afraid. The Lord proceeded to descend upon the mountain in fire, and the smoke that arose from the mountain was like the smoke from a furnace. The mountain shook violently, and the trumpet grew louder and louder. All this while, God kept telling Moses that he was not to allow anyone to pass the limits set around the mountain in trying to get a better view. God promised that such would be killed on the spot. The people feared greatly, and even told Moses that they would prefer that he would continue to meet with God on his own without involving them. He would then come and tell them what God desired of them.  This is the depiction that the bible gives us of God the Father; an immensely powerful being who did not hesitate to pass judgement.
Many have had difficulty reconciling this authoritative representation of God, with the kind and welcoming representation of the Son. The Son is represented as a man who was born of man and walked with men; one who was compassionate towards young and old. He went around with his disciples, giving teachings and healing the sick, and telling men that they should prepare for His second coming. That these two completely different representations of God could exist at the same time has a point of significant debate. Thus, Modalists rationalize that God the Father was the form that God took up in the Old Testament, when He had little patience with man. Then He had compassion on man and decided to reconcile man to himself through an ultimate sacrifice. He now took the form of Jesus the Son, who entered among people through the Virgin Mary.
The Role of Jesus was to reconcile the people back to God. The hearts of men had become distant and exceedingly sinful, and no amount of animal sacrifice was going to be able to erase that sin. Only the death of a being that was absolutely pure and blameless would suffice. In so doing, Jesus took on the sin of the whole world on Himself and paid for them with His death on the cross. Jesus was also demonstrating to men that even though God was a God of judgement who was intolerant of sin, He was a God who loved humankind, so much so, that he decided to sacrifice Himself on the cross and feel the pain of beatings, whips and lashes, and of nails going through His hands and feet.
The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is not represented in physical form. He is God in Spirit. The role of the Holy Spirit is that of a Spiritual Guide and Helper. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He promised His followers a Helper; He was one who would come to assist them in their walk of Christianity, and empower them sufficiently. This empowerment was to come through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This happened in the upper room where the disciples of Jesus had congregated. Jesus specifically told them, in Luke 24, not to leave the city until they had been clothed with power from on high. In Acts 1: 5, Jesus said, “John baptized you with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” He also said that the Holy Spirit would reveal teach the saints more about Jesus.  In the upper room, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with the representation of tongues of fire appearing on top of each one of them. They then began to speak in tongues that they did not know. It so happened that at that time, the city of Jerusalem had representatives from all nations around the world. They came and heard their native languages being spoken, and were incredibly shocked that the disciples were speaking their languages fluently. Some said the disciples were drunk, but Peter came out, addressed them, and explained that it was the power of the Holy Spirit at work. That day alone, the bible states that 3000 men received salvation and were baptized. Having that many people changing their lives in one meeting was only by the doing of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit also empowered the disciples with spiritual gifts. Jesus said that they would be able to do even greater things than he did. Some of these gifts are gifts of healing, word of knowledge, discernment of spirits, gift of wisdom, gift of prophecy, and gift of tongues. The other roles of the Holy Spirit are to work as a conscience, an internal spiritual instructor, a counsellor, and a comforter. This representation of God also contrasts sharply with of God the Father. These differences in roles and representations form the major basis to modalist arguments stating that the three persons of the Trinity cannot exist at the same time.
Another fact that supports the modalist arguments is that the reasoning of the Trinitarian arguments fails to make philosophical sense. The statement that God exists in three forms that are one is something that is not easily understandable using logic. That all three forms of God can exist at the same time, with Jesus being the Son of the Father, and yet still claiming to have or to bear equal sovereign status with God. Then again, we cannot totally refute this argument because the ways of God have never been understandable to the mind or heart of man. God is the creator, and we are the creation. We cannot fathom the reasoning of God.

Facts against Modalism

In any debate, one must consider the pros and cons. We have considered the some of the reasons why Modalists believe what they say. Now we must consider the facts that go against Modalism. One of the facts that go against Modalism is that the Trinity, although not mentioned in the bible, is indirectly discussed in the bible. In John 1:1-3, the bible states “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God[5]. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made”. In verse 14 of the same chapter, the text goes on saying, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Although the word trinity was not mentioned, the text is indirectly referring to Jesus Christ who is the word that was with God the Father even in the beginning. Verse 14 symbolizes how Jesus became flesh and was born to the Virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit, who entered Mary and caused her to be pregnant with Jesus while she was still a virgin.  There is also emphasis in the Bible that the Holy Spirit is God, found in Acts 5:3,4, where a man called Ananias lied to a man of God about the amount of money he got from the sale of some property. He was told that he had not just lied to man, but he had lied to the Holy Spirit, and to God. Moreover, right there, he fell down and died.

Conclusion

The debate between modality and Trinitarianism will always be a heated one. Both sides present strong arguments that deserve full consideration. The Modalist argument remains the argument that seems to be more logical, but then again, the Trinitarian argument is the one that scripture supports. It is an argument that needs to be researched even further, with the final decision on which school of thought to side with remaining to be a personal and individual choice.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Notes

  1. Dougherty, T., “The Unity of God”, The Holy Trinity, T. Dougherty, (2008): 8
  2. Chomsky, Carol, “Unlocking the Mysteries of Holy Trinity: Spirit, Letter, and History in Statutory Interpretation,” Columbia Law Review, Vol. 100, no. 4, (2000): 901
  3. Boyd, Gregory A., “Understanding Oneness Pentecoastalism,” Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity, Baker Book House, (1992): 25
  4. Fudge, Thomas A., “A Oneness Pentecostal Doctrine of Salvation,” Christianity Without the Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism, Universal Publishers, (2003): 75
  5. Francis, Henry S., “The Holy Trinity,” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Vol. 48, No. 4, (Apr., 1961): 59-62

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Bibliography

Boyd, Gregory A., “Understanding Oneness Pentecoastalism,” Oneness Pentecostals and the
Trinity, Baker Book House, (1992): 25
Chomsky, Carol, “Unlocking the Mysteries of Holy Trinity: Spirit, Letter, and History in
Statutory Interpretation,” Columbia Law Review, Vol. 100, no. 4, (2000): 901
Dougherty, T., “The Unity of God”, The Holy Trinity, T. Dougherty, (2008): 8
Francis, Henry S., “The Holy Trinity,” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Vol.
48, No. 4, (Apr., 1961): 59-62
Fudge, Thomas A., “A Oneness Pentecostal Doctrine of Salvation,” Christianity Without the
Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism, Universal Publishers, (2003): 75
Weekes, R. D., “Trinity,” Jehovah-Jesus : the oneness of God : the true Trinity, Dodd, Mead
& Company (1876).
[1] Dougherty, T., “The Unity of God”, The Holy Trinity, T. Dougherty, (2008): 8
[2] Chomsky, Carol, “Unlocking the Mysteries of Holy Trinity: Spirit, Letter, and History in Statutory Interpretation,” Columbia Law Review, Vol. 100, no. 4, (2000): 901
[3] Boyd, Gregory A., “Understanding Oneness Pentecoastalism,” Oneness Pentecostals and the
Trinity, Baker Book House, (1992): 25

  1. Fudge, Thomas A., “A Oneness Pentecostal Doctrine of Salvation,” Christianity Without the Cross: A

History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism, Universal Publishers, (2003): 75
[5] Francis, Henry S., “The Holy Trinity,” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Vol.
48, No. 4, (Apr., 1961): 59-62

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