A Defense of the Holy Trinity vs. Modalism

Trinity -- Introduction

The historic teaching of the Church is that there is one God who exists in three Persons -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This teaching has come to be called the Trinity doctrine.

Shortly after the New Testament was completed, some began to think that it made more sense to believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are really three manifestations of the same Person appearing in different modes. This doctrine has come to be called Modalism. In the last century, a modern form of Modalism is often called the 'Oneness' or 'Jesus only' doctrine.

The goal of this study is twofold: (1) To give the reader an outline of the evidence that convinced me to become a trinitarian and (2) to examine the merits of some of the arguments used by modalists I have met over the years.

(1) There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 45:21-22, I Cor. 8:4).

(2) The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.

(A) The Father is God (I Peter 1:2; John 6:27, 20:17; Galatians 1:1; Matthew 11:25; Jude 1).

(B) The Son -- or Word -- is God (John 1:1, 8:58, 20:28; Hebrews 1:1-8, Colossians 2:9, Titus 2:13).

(C) The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5 :1-11; I Corinthians 2:11; 6:19-20).

(3) The Father is a Person, the Son is a Person, and the Holy Spirit is a Person.

(A) The Father is a Person. We can have fellowship with him, 1 John 1:3; he knows, Matthew 6:6-8; he teaches, Matthew 16:17; he loves, John 16:27; he is a witness, John 8:18; he has a will, John 5:30.

(B) The Son is a Person. We can have fellowship with him, 1 John 1:3; he knows, Matthew 11:27; he teaches, John 1:18, Rev. 2:18; he loves, Romans 8:35, Gal. 2:20; he is a witness, John 8:18; he has a will, John 5:30; he can be grieved, John 11:35.

(C) The Holy Spirit is a Person. We can have fellowship with him, Philippians 2:1, II Cor. 13:14; he knows, I Cor. 2:11; he teaches, Luke 12:12, I Cor. 2:13; he loves, Romans 15:30; he is a witness, Acts 20:23, Romans 8:16; he has a will, I Cor. 12:11; he can be grieved, Ephesians 4:30.

(4) The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are personally distinct from one another.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are able to:

(A) Send or be sent by one another (John 3:17, 10:36, 14:23-26, 15:26, 16:7).

(B) Speak to each other (John 17:1-26, Romans 8:26-27, Hebrews 1:7-8) and about each other (Matthew 17:5, Mark 1:11, John 8:13-18).

(C) The Father and Son love and honor each other (John 3:35, 5:20, 14:31).

The Trinity doctrine -- that there is one God in three Persons -- summarizes these biblical truths without adding or subtracting anything from them. {1}

I find three concepts especially useful for comparing various doctrines that claim biblical support. The first is the concept of letting Scripture interpret Scripture. The second is the concept that the Bible is a progressive revelation, laying the foundation and then building on it; and many points that are left unclear while the foundation is being laid are made clear later on. The third is that it is far wiser to interpret that which is unclear in the light of that which is clear rather than vice-versa.

Trinitarians and modalists who attempt to discuss their differences often experience frustration. One of the reasons for this is that they are starting with different assumptions. Modalists assume that the word 'God' has the meaning of 'One Divine Person.' Trinitarians do not assume this; to the trinitarian, the word 'God' can denote any or all of the Divine Persons, depending on the context.

The same assumption is made about the meaning of other words. For example, Modalism takes the word 'Spirit' to mean 'one person who is a Spirit,' 'Lord' to mean 'one person who is Lord,' etc.

My contention is that when we are trying to ascertain what the Bible (or any book, for that matter) really has to say on a subject, we cannot worry too much about whether or not the book conforms to our pre-existing assumptions about the meaning of words, phrases, and the like. Instead, we must simply open up the book and let it speak for itself. The author may be using words in a way that is different from what we are used to. Let us begin with an outline of some of the scriptural passages used to support the Trinity doctrine.

Although the unity of God is the main theme of the Old Testament, in some passages the multipersonal nature of God is certainly suggested (see Genesis 1:26 and 3:22, Psalm 45:6-7, Isaiah 6:8 and 48:12-17). However, it is in the New Testament that we find the fullest, clearest revelation of the concept summarized in the Trinity doctrine.

The gospel of John begins like this: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made' (John 1:1-3). Three things are immediately apparent:

First, the Word was God. The Word had the character and nature of God; what God was, the Word was. Second, the personal pronoun him is applied to the Word, indicating that the Word is a personal being. Third, the Word was with God. The term with* indicates that the Word was not the same Person as the One with whom he was, One who is also referred to as God.

John 1:14, 17, and 18 further explain the identity of the Word:

'And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we have beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth . . . . For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.'

As we read the rest of the first chapter of John's gospel, it begins to become clear that God in verse 1 is God the Father, and the Word who was with him is God the Son.

Other passages of Scripture confirm that the Father and the Son are not the same Person -- for example, the Son prays to the Father in Matthew 26:39, calls on his Father as a second witness in addition to himself in John 8:16-18, and sits down with his Father on his throne in Revelation 3:21.

The Scriptures also reveal the existence of a third Divine Person: the Holy Spirit. As Jesus spoke with his disciples in John 14-16, he made it quite clear that the Holy Spirit was not the same Person as himself and not the same Person as the Father. In these chapters, the Holy Spirit is revealed to be personally distinct from the Father and from the Son.

*Also interesting is the fact that in vs. 1 the first mention of God is preceded by the definite article (in the Greek), but the second mention of God lacks the definite article. The Jehovah's Witnesses make too much of this distinction and end up thinking that the second mention of God really refers to a second god; the Modalists make too little of this distinction and end up thinking that the second mention of God refers to the same Person as does the first.

Now let us examine some of the arguments used by modern day modalists. The arguments for modalism are presented first and are followed by answers to those arguments.

Argument # 1: Ephesians 1:4 tells us that God chose us in him before the foundation of the world -- but we did not exist as separate persons at that time! Before the foundation of the world, we were only thoughts in the mind of God. God's thoughts were certainly with him, but that doesn't make the thoughts separate persons. The same is true in John 1:1. The term word means not only what is said, but the thought behind what is said. In the beginning God had his plan. God's plan was certainly with him, and it is in that sense that the Word was with God in the beginning.

Answer: First of all, we cannot judge an author's intended meaning for a word solely by its lexical (dictionary) definition. We must also observe how the word is being used in the context in which it appears. The term shield does not normally refer to persons or to conscious individuals, but sometimes it can (Genesis 15:1). Similarly, the term word may not normally refer to a person, but it certainly appears that John was using it that way in John 1:1. e If John 1:1 only said that 'in the beginning the Word was in God,' argument # 1 might carry some force. But John made it a point to say that the Word was with God. The Greek word pros that is translated as 'with' favors a trinitarian interpretation over a modalistic one.

Lutheran scholar R. C. H. Lenski comments:

The preposition [pros], as distinct from [en], [para], and [sun], is of the greatest importance . . . . The idea is that of presence and communion with a strong note of reciprocity. The Logos, then, is not an attribute inhering in God, or a power emanating from him, but a person in the presence of God and turned in loving, inseparable communion toward God and God turned equally toward him. {2}

Referring to Lenski's statement, Dr. Robert Morey, a Christian apologist and writer, says 'John's use of the preposition [pros] is also significant in that it shows he did not view the Logos and the Father as being the same person.' {3}

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament states this under the subtitle pro with the accusative:

This is very common and denotes motion 'towards.' In this case, which is also the most important theologically, [pros] is almost parallel to [heis]. A radical difference which is often overlooked is that with [pros] the movement breaks off on the frontier of the object sought whereas with [heis] it is continued right on into the object (my italics). {4}

Argument # 2: In John 10:30, Jesus said 'I and my Father are one.' That can only mean that Jesus is the Father -- that Jesus and the Father are the same Person.

Answer: The word 'one' in this passage does not necessarily mean 'one person.' The term 'one' often denotes a composite unity, as it does in I Corinthians 12:12-14, which speaks of one body made of many members. We know this is also the case in John 10:30, because Jesus explained in John 17:11-22 just how he and his Father are one. In vs. 22, Jesus said of his disciples 'And the glory which thou hast given me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.' Jesus' words are very clear. Jesus' followers are to be one in the same way that Jesus and his Father are one. Jesus' followers are to be one body, not one person. In the same way, the Father and the Son are one God, not one Person.

Argument # 3: Isaiah 9:6 says that Jesus is the Father: 'For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given . . . and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.'

Answer: First, we must note the way the Bible often uses the expression 'called by the name.' Biblically speaking, one's name indicated one's nature. Also, in many cases one person is called by the name of another person (Isaiah 4:1, 63:19; Jer. 14:9, Dan. 9:19). Although Isaiah 9:6 is more striking than any of these references, it still requires clarification from other passages regarding the way in which this name (nature) belongs to the son.

Additionally, the word 'father' can mean more than one thing. It can mean source -- as in Abraham, the father of many nations, or Satan, the father of lies. It can also mean one who cares for and looks after like a father (as Joseph was made a father to Pharaoh, Genesis 45:8; and as Job was a father to the poor, Job 29:16). We know that sometimes God is called Father in the sense of Creator (Isaiah 64:8, Malachi 2:10) and sometimes in the sense of fatherly care and concern (Psalm 68:5, 103:13; Jeremiah 31:9).

Jesus is 'the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him' (Hebrews 5:9). In this sense, Jesus is the Father of the church. He is also the Father of the church in the sense that he loves it and cares for it. Since he will be alive forever and ever, Everlasting Father is a fitting name for him.

According to Hebrew scholars, the words Everlasting Father in Isaiah 9:6 literally mean Father of eternity, or perpetuity -- and as such can mean Father of creation. {5} Since all things were created by the Son (John 1:3, Col 1:16), Father of creation would be a fitting name for him also. Either of the above are possible meanings of the name Everlasting Father. Neither of them mean that the son is the same person as God the Father. That being said, it is certainly true that the son referred to in Isaiah 9:6 bears the Name of his Father.

Argument # 4: The Holy Spirit cannot be separated from the Father, for it is a part of His Substance. That which was conceived in the virgin Mary was of the Holy Ghost. Matt. 1:20. The truth becomes evident that the Holy Spirit is the Father of the Son. To try to separate the Father and the Holy Spirit and form two Persons, would give the Son two Fathers, which is impossible. {6}

Answer: First of all, the Scripture never calls the Holy Spirit the Father of Jesus. Matthew 1:20 says that before Mary and Joseph came together, she was found with child 'of the Holy Ghost.' Somehow (we are not told how) the Holy Spirit caused a woman to be with child -- a result normally requiring a human father. But that does not mean that the Holy Spirit was Jesus' father. Somehow Jesus caused water to turn into wine, a result normally requiring a grapevine. But does that mean that Jesus was a grapevine? Of course not!

Even assuming that we were to call the Holy Spirit 'father' of Jesus because the Holy Spirit was the source of Mary's pregnancy, remember that it was the presence of a human father that the Holy Spirit had replaced. In contrast, passages like John 17:5 show us that before Jesus ever took on a human nature, he was already with God the Father. The Fatherhood of God and the 'fathering' of the man Jesus represent two completely different senses of the word father. Therefore even if we were to grant that the Holy Spirit 'fathered' Christ's humanity, it would not follow that the Holy Spirit is the same Person as God the Father.

Argument # 5: The Holy Spirit and Jesus are the same Person because they are the same Spirit.

There is only one Spirit (Eph. 4:4). The Holy Ghost is the Spirit (John 7:39) and Jesus is the Spirit (II Cor 3:17). Paul used the terms 'Spirit of God' and 'Spirit of Christ' as synonymous terms in reference to the Holy Spirit. He said, 'ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the SPIRIT OF GOD dwell in you. Now if any man have not the SPIRIT OF CHRIST, he is none of his.' Rom. 8:9. {7}

Answer: The oneness of the Spirit should not be confused with oneness of person. Remember John 17:22, in which one did not mean one person. Similarly, in Ephesians 4:4, one Spirit does not mean one Person who is a Spirit. Ephesians 4:4-5 actually says 'There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism.' There is one body, but many persons in the body; one hope, but many who hope; one faith, but many who are in the faith; one baptism, but many persons who are baptized (See Appendix 1).

It should also be pointed out that argument # 5 is based in part on the assumption that Romans 8:9 uses the terms 'Spirit of God' and 'Spirit of Christ' synonymously. But it is quite possible that the Spirit of Christ in Romans 8:9 is not the Spirit who is Christ, but instead the Spirit who comes from Christ. Nothing in either the English or the Greek from which it was translated preclude that meaning.{8}

Argument # 6: If the Father is in Jesus, then Jesus is the same Person as the Father. The Father dwells in Jesus (John 14:10), therefore Jesus is the Father

Answer: If this reasoning is correct, then all Christians are the same Person as Jesus because Jesus is in them (John 15:4, Colossians 1:27). Obviously this is not the case. The mystery hidden for ages is Christ in the believer, but that does not make the believer Christ.

Argument # 7: When Philip asked Jesus to show the Father to the disciples, Jesus said to Philip 'Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.' (John 14:9). The only thing this can possibly mean is that Jesus and the Father are one and the same Person.

Answer: John 14:9 certainly asserts that Jesus has the same nature as the Father. But does it mean Jesus is the Father? Jesus used similar expressions elsewhere without meaning that. For instance, in Matthew 10:40, Jesus said to his disciples 'He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.' Jesus did not mean that he was the same person as his disciples. Similarly, when he said 'and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me,' he did not mean that he was the same Person as the Father who sent him. Instead, the meaning is probably that since Jesus would be in his disciples (John 15:4), whatever people do to the disciples they do to Jesus. Jesus spoke in this manner often (Matt. 25:40, Mark 9:37, Luke 9:48, John 13:20).

After Jesus said 'He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,' he went on to say 'and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?' Not that he really was the Father, but that the Father was in him, and he in the Father. The Father and the Son are each present in the other. Anyone who has seen the Son has seen the Father, not because the Son is the Father, but because the Father is in the Son, and the Father's Name (nature) is manifested in the Son (John 17:6).

Argument # 8: If God the Son is a different Person from God the Father or from God the Holy Spirit, then only one Person in the Godhead -- the Son -- would have dwelt bodily in Christ. But Colossians 2:9 states that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily in Christ. Therefore God must be only one Person.

Answer: Modalists mistakenly believe that the Trinity doctrine teaches that God exists as three separate Persons. Actually, what the Trinity doctrine teaches is that while the three Persons are distinct as Persons, they are not separate Beings, but aspects of one Being, which is God. Just as the three dimensions of space are aspects of one space even though they are distinct as dimensions, so the three Persons of the Trinity are aspects of one God even though they are distinct as Persons. They cannot be separated.

The Trinity doctrine recognizes that the Divine essence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is one and the same -- such that where one is, the others are also. Because this is so, trinitarians have no objection to the statement that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all dwell bodily in Christ -- as long as it is understood that while all three may dwell in Christ, only one of them (the Son) is Christ.

Argument # 9: A trinitarian concept contends that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one in holiness, love, glory, wisdom and eternal power; but, three in Person. No Scripture can be found to support such a concept. Note the following: His holiness (not their holiness) - Ps. 47:8; His love (not their love) - Rom 5:8; My glory (not our glory) - Is. 42:8; The only wise God (not the wise three) - I Tim. 1:17; His eternal power (not their eternal power) - Rom 1:20. The term persons (plural) used in reference to God does violence to the oneness of God The Bible proves that God is ONE IN PERSON.{9}

Answer: Certainly there are also many places in Scripture where God uses plural forms to speak of himself. Examples include Genesis 1:26 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,' Genesis 3:22, 'And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil,' and Genesis 11:7, 'Let us go down and confound their language.'

Some modalists argue that in passages like these God was addressing the angels, or perhaps using the 'plurality of majesty' (much like queen Victoria when she said 'We are not amused'). However, there is no clear evidence that the 'plurality of majesty' existed as a form of expression used by the Hebrews in biblical times. {10} After the Bible was written, the time came when kings did begin to use the 'plurality of majesty.' But even then they only did so when speaking to someone else. They did not speak to themselves in this way. In Genesis 1:26, God was not speaking to anyone but himself, for he said 'let us create,' and only God can create. Man was not made in the image of angels but in the image of God. However, even if the majestic plural was operative in places like Genesis 1:26, that would not refute later revelations of God's triune nature.

The fact must be faced that the Scripture uses both plural and singular forms to speak of God. The use of both supports the Trinity doctrine more than it does Modalism, for where there is more than one person present, there is at least one person present -- but not vice-versa.

Argument # 10: God's use of the first person singular when coupled with words like 'alone' proves that he is only one Person. Isaiah 44:24 illustrates the point clearly: 'I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself.' Alone -- by myself! If the Trinity doctrine was true, then either all three were speaking in Isaiah 44:24 or only one of them was. If all three were speaking, then why didn't they say 'we alone' and 'by ourselves' instead of 'I alone' and 'by myself?' But if only one of them was speaking, how could he say 'I alone' if other Persons in the Trinity were with him?

Answer: Argument # 10 is based on the assumption that only a single person can ever say 'I alone' or be spoken of as one who is alone. But this is not always the case in Scripture. We must be careful to let Scripture define its own terms.

The word 'alone' is sometimes used in the Scriptures to refer to a group of persons. In Deuteronomy 33:28-29, Israel is called 'alone' and addressed as 'thou' (second person singular) even though many people are being addressed. There are actually quite a few examples of this kind of speech in the Old Testament.{11}

In Isaiah 49:21, God says that Zion -- which is certainly made up of more than one person -- will speak these words: 'Behold, I was left alone.' A mere loose gathering of separate people cannot say 'I,' much less 'I am alone.' However, examples such as Isaiah 49:21 prove that in some cases a single entity that is composed of more that one person (such as Zion) can say 'I am alone.'{12} This is true of Zion's words in Isaiah 49:21; something analogous may be true of God's words in Isaiah 44:24.

Isaiah 44:24 appears in the midst of passages in which God, in various and sundry ways, is making the point that he alone is God. In verse 24 the point is made that God was alone in creating because he is the only God there ever was, is, or will be. The question being answered in Isaiah 44:24 is not that of whether there is more than one Person within the one and only God, but of whether there are any other gods{13} outside of God. The subject at hand is the question of whether there are multiple gods, not the question of whether there are multiple Persons.

There are many passages that do clearly address the subject of plurality of Persons within the Godhead. It is to these passages that we must now begin to turn.

(A) In John 8:16-18, Jesus says ' . . . If I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. It is also written in your law, the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.' Here Jesus states that his Father is a second witness in addition to himself. If Jesus is the same Person as his Father, this statement would not be true.

(B) When Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he lifted his eyes and prayed: 'Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me' (John 11:41). Jesus indicated that he was praying as he did so that the people standing by would understand what was going on. If Jesus is the same Person as his Father, he would not talk to himself as if he were talking to someone else. That would have confused the people rather than enlightening them.

Argument # 11: Passages like John 8:16-18 and 11:41 are simply examples of Jesus' human nature interacting with his Divine nature. In John 8:16-18, Jesus' human nature was speaking about his Divine nature; and in John 11:41, Jesus' human nature was praying to his Divine nature.

Answer: I find this highly unlikely. The two witnesses required by the Law were two persons. While it is obvious that two persons can talk to each other, it is not obvious that two natures can talk to each other. For example: each human being has both a physical nature and a spiritual nature -- but these two natures do not talk to each other! Instead both function together as one person. Another example: the same man might be a father, a brother, and a son, but his 'son' nature does not talk to his 'father' nature (See Appendix 3). The concept of two natures talking to each other is even more mysterious than the Trinity.{14}

However, even if we were to grant the assumption that Jesus' human nature can talk to his Divine nature, there are many passages of Scripture that (a) reveal a multiplicity of Person within God, and (b) cannot be explained as the interaction of Jesus' human and Divine natures. The following passages are crystal clear.

(A) John 14:16: 'And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.' Here Jesus says he will ask the Father to give his disciples another Comforter in addition to himself. This passage cannot be an example of the interaction of Jesus' human nature and his Divine nature because there are three Divine Persons which are referred to.

(B) John 15:26: 'But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.' This is another passage where three Persons are indicated. 'From' is the translation of a Greek word that indicates that the place from which the Spirit of truth starts is alongside of and distinct from the One from whom he was sent -- that he is proceeding from a place at the Father's side.{15}

If Jesus, his Father, and the Holy Spirit are all the same Person, John 15:26 would really mean something like this: 'But when I have come, whom I will send to you from myself, even myself, which proceeds from myself, I shall testify of me.' Such an interpretation doesn't make sense.

If you were to ask the mayor for legal help, and he said 'I'll tell you what. I will speak to the judge, and the judge will appoint a defense attorney for you' wouldn't you be surprised if it turned out that the mayor, the judge, and the defense attorney were all the same person?

(C) Hebrews 1:1-9:

God . . . Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son . . . . And of the angels he [God] saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. (from verses 1, 2, and 7-9).

Here we see one Divine Person speaking to another Divine Person. Since both Persons are referred to as God, neither of them can be a mere human figure. (See Appendix 4 for an analysis of a Modalistic argument against this conclusion).

(D) John 17:5: Jesus prayed 'And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.' Since Christ's human nature did not come into existence until after the world was made, there is no way John 17:5 can be attributed to Christ's human nature speaking to his Divine nature. Instead, one Divine Person is speaking to another Divine Person.

(E) Matthew 28:19: And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' The Greek grammar here indicates that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are distinct Persons who are nonetheless one Being.

Dr. Morey says:

The Granville Sharpe rule states that when two nouns of the same case are separated [and connected] by the word kai, with the first noun having the article in front of it, but the second noun without the article, only one person is in view and is, thus, being described by both nouns. In contrast, when both nouns have a definite article, then two persons are in view.{16}

In the New Testament, Modalists consistently violate the rules of Greek grammar and syntax. The Granville Sharpe rule reveals that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are grammatically viewed as separate Persons in baptism (Matt. 28:19), the benedictions (i. e., II Cor. 13:14) and other passages, such as Romans 15:30.{17}

Theologian Robert L. Reymond has this to say about Matthew 28:19:

Jesus does not say, (1) 'into the names [plural] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,' or what is its virtual equivalent, (2) 'into the name of the Father, and into the name of the Son, and into the name of the Holy Spirit,' as if we had to deal with three separate Beings. Nor does He say, (3) 'into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,' (omitting the three recurring articles), as if 'the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost' might be taken as merely three designations of a single person. What He does say is this: (4) 'into the name [singular] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,' first asserting the unity of the three by combining them all within the bounds of the single Name, and then throwing into emphasis the distinctness of each by introducing them in turn with the repeated article. {18}

The testimony of the Apostles echo the words of Jesus. For example, in the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14 where Paul uses three designations for God, the three are grammatically treated as distinct persons. In Romans 15:30, Paul treats 'the Lord Jesus Christ' and 'the Spirit' as distinct persons; and in passages like 1 Thessalonians 3:11 and 2 Thessalonians 2:16, he treats the Lord Jesus and God the Father as distinct persons.

John makes a personal distinction between the Father and the Son in 1 John 2:22-23, and in Revelation 11:15, when the seventh angel sounded the seventh trumpet, great voices in heaven made a personal distinction between 'our Lord' and 'his Christ.' More such passages could be cited.


Modalists have a genuine desire to follow God and to be true to God's word. When they present their case they are trying to defend the truth of the Scriptures. However, Modalism interprets passages like Isaiah 44:24, John 10:30, and John 14:9 in such a way that the plain face meaning of certain other passages (such as John 1:1, 17:5, and Hebrews 1:1-9) must ultimately be denied.

In contrast, the Trinity doctrine affirms the truth of passages like Isaiah 44:24, John 10:30, and John 14:9 . . . and the truth of passages like John 1:1, 17:5, and Hebrews 1:1-9. Once the evidence has been thoroughly examined, it is the Trinity doctrine -- not Modalism -- that best defends the truth of all the Scriptures.

Appendix 1: Oneness

When a man and a woman join either in marriage or in an adulterous relationship, they are still two persons. But Jesus, citing the Old Testament, pointed out that they become one flesh. In this sense they are no longer two, but one (Matt. 19:6). Scripture reveals that this kind of oneness is exactly parallel to the oneness of the spirit: 'Do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with him' (I Corinthians 6:16-17, NASB). Clearly, one spirit does not mean one person here.

The phrase one Spirit is also found in Ephesians 4:4-5, a context in which other entities (such as the body, the faith, etc.) are one, and yet contain multiple persons. It is therefore quite possible that the same thing is true of one Spirit in Ephesians 4:4 as is true of the same phrase in I Corinthians 6:17. Nothing in Ephesians 4:4-5 limits one Spirit to being only one Person.

Appendix 2: The Royal We

Some say the 'royal we,' or majestic plural, was used by Persian kings, but the only example of a Persian king (Artaxerxes) using what may be a majestic plural that I have seen in the Bible is in Ezra 4:18, where Artzxerxes says 'The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me.' Even that is debatable, however, since others were probably present with the king, who may have been thinking of his translator and reader when he said 'us.'

Appendix 3: Natures and Persons

Modalism has a dilemma on the nature of Christ. Modalism agrees with Trinitarianism that Christ is both God and man, but Modalism also holds that God is only one Person. Therefore Modalism must take one of two positions on the nature of Christ. Either (A) Christ is one Person who has both a human and a Divine nature, or (B) Christ is really two persons, one human and the other Divine. Let's take a moment to look at these.

(A) On one hand, the assertion that Christ is one Person who has both a human and a Divine nature weakens the modalistic argument because of the problem outlined earlier, namely, the difficulties inherent in the idea that two natures can talk to each other. But the other option creates a much greater difficulty for Modalism.

(B) Anyone who makes the assertion that when Jesus spoke in the first person singular there were really two persons speaking, or else one person speaking on behalf of another ('whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak' John 12:50), has thereby conceded that several persons can speak as if they were one person! And if that is true, the argument that God must be only one Person because he often speaks (or is spoken of) with singular forms such as I or he is in ruins.

Appendix 4: Speaking of one's self in the second person

It could be argued that under certain conditions one person can speak about himself as if he was speaking of someone else. Once, Jesus healed a man and then asked him if he believed in the Son of God (John 9:35-37). The man replied, 'Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?' Jesus answered, 'Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.' Some Modalists have sought to explain Hebrews 1:8-9 along these lines, noting that it contains a quotation of Psalm 45:6-7, which they claim is a prophecy in which God the Father speaks of his future manifestation as the Son.

But this argument is specious because it doesn't matter whether or not Psalm 45 is a prophecy. Hebrews 1:6 specifies that God is speaking to the firstbegotten when he brings the firstbegotten into the world. Since verse 6 tells us that the time of Christ's Incarnation is the time when the 'speaking' takes place, what follows verse 6 cannot be a case of God speaking in Old Testament times about His future Incarnation as the Son. Instead, one who is God -- using the words of Psalm 45:6-7 -- speaks to, not just about, the Son, who is also God. 'But unto [not of] the Son, he [God] saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever' (my italics).

Those numbers enclosed in { } this kind of bracket were intended to be footnotes.


1 John D. Davis, 'God' The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1944).

2 R. C. H. Lenski, St. John's Gospel, (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1943) pp. 32-33.

3 Robert Morey, The Trinity: Evidence and Issues, (Grand Rapids: Word Publishing, 1996), p. 322.

4 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey Bromily, Eds.; Geoffrey Bromily, transl. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968) Vol 6, p. 721. See also Joseph Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1977) p. 542, where it notes that pro\j indicates a distinction of persons.

5 Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), article on Isaiah 9:6.

6 Eddie Jones, The Truth About One God, nd.

7 Ibid.

8 Dr. Morey has this to say on pp. 94-5 about phrases like the Spirit of Christ:

We agree that the word 'Spirit' refers to the Holy Spirit. But we do not agree . . . that the Holy Spirit is the 'spirit' of Jesus in the same way that we have a spirit . . . . The word 'of' in the phrase 'the Spirit of Jesus' must be understood as the genitive or origin, i.e., not the Spirit who is Jesus, but the Spirit who comes from or proceeds forth from the Father and the Son.

9 Jones.

10 Morey, p. 528.

11 Examples include Isaiah 16:12 (Moab), Jeremiah 30:7 (Jacob), and Jeremiah 31:18-20 (Ephraim).

12 In Isaiah 49:21, it is the people of Zion that speaking as one; it is not a personification of the land that speaks. We know this because the 'Zion' that speaks in verse 21 is distinguished from 'the land' back in verse 19. Zion also says that she was 'removing to and fro,' (vs. 21) i.e., traveling around -- hardly a description of the land.

13 That is, God by nature and not just gods by reputation (see Galatians 4:8). For of course, the Old Testament (especially) has many that are 'gods' in the sense that they are mighty ones or godlike in some way.

14 Morey, p. 423.

15 Morey, p. 423.

16 Morey, p. 342. Actually, Dr. Morey is condensing the Granville Sharpe rule, which is not a single rule but a set of several related rules.

17 Morey, p. 530.

18 Robert L. Reymond, Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New Testament Witness (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990) p. 84.

By: Roger Garza (c) 1998


Back to Apologetics Articles

Back to Home Page

About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links