Doctrine of God: The Trinity Part 2
Core Tenants of the Christian Faith
Doctrine of God: The Trinity Part 2
In part one of the Trinity, I proved from the scriptures that the bible teaches there is one God who eternally exists in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They have eternally existed, possessing the same divine nature and divine attributes. Sadly, throughout church history, many have fallen into grave error by teaching and believing trinitarian heresies. In Titus 1:9 an Elder is called not only to be able to teach sound doctrine but refute those who contradict it. Therefore, it is essential that the church not only knows right doctrine, but also that which opposes it, so that the church may not be deceived. In this blog I will examine and refute two trinitarian heresies that have been prominent throughout church history: Arianism and Modalism.
Arianism was a 4th century heresy taught by a Presbyter named Arius. Attempting to hold to the truth that there is only one God, Arius erroneously taught that Jesus was God’s first and greatest created being, infamously saying, “there was a time when the Son was not.” Challenged by Alexander, the Bishop of Alexandria and other faithful men, the Arian heresy was condemned at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, concluding that Jesus is homoousios (the same substance as the Father) rather than homoiousios (similar but not the same substance as the Father). Unfortunately, this ancient heresy continued after Nicaea and is still taught today by Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, amongst others.
Thankfully, God’s word does not leave this subject up for debate. No Scripture is clearer on this topic than John chapter 1 declaring that Jesus is not God’s first creation, but homoousios, the same in essence as the Father. The Apostle John opens his gospel, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. Then in verse 14 of John 1, the Word is revealed as none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, stating, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.This single text decimates Arius’s argument, with Jesus being called the Word, who is co-eternal with the Father and creator of all things (not all other things). Arianism is also debunked by Jesus’s own words. In John 8:58, Jesus says “Before Abraham was, “I AM” (the self-existent one), God’s personal name Yahweh (Exodus 3:14). This is why the Pharisees attempted to kill Jesus for blasphemy in John 8:59. In addition to these texts, Colossians 1:15-20, John 5:18, John 10:30 (I and the Father are one), and many others teach that Jesus is God. While Arianism denies the Trinity by attacking the divinity of Christ, Modalism denies it by denying the distinct relationships within the Trinity.
Most notably taught by Sabellius who lived in the third century, Modalism teaches that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are not three distinct persons but three different modes of God throughout redemptive history. At times God will act as the Father and other times switch modes between the Son and Spirit. This heresy falls apart when at least two persons of the trinity interact with one another, as in Jesus’s baptism in Matthew 3:16-17. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” As Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove and the Father spoke from heaven. For modalism to be true, the Father would have had to be talking to Himself when speaking to the Son, and simultaneously be descending as the Holy Spirit. There is a similar issue in John 17 when Jesus is praying to the Father. There would be no point for there to be communication between the Father and Son if they are not distinct persons. Today, Oneness Pentecostals are the most popular group to espouse this trinitarian heresy, with TD Jakes being the most notable false teacher. Contrary to their heresy, scripture maintains there is one God, distinct in three persons, who work together to accomplish the same divine will.
In closing, all trinitarian heresies will attack the relationship within the Godhead or either the deity or humanity of Christ. And though I dealt with only two heresies, when we intricately know what scripture teaches about the trinity, we can easily dismantle any false doctrine that attacks the nature of God. In part 3 of the doctrine of the trinity, I will examine the two natures of Christ.