Modalism – Why Does it Matter?

Modalism is the heresy that God exists in different manifestations or modes, but not in three persons. It seeks to preserve the language in the Bible about 3 distinct persons (Father, Son and Spirit) while defending the unity of God.

Monergism helpfully defines modalism (amongst other Trinitarian heresies:

Modalism (i.e. Sabellianism, Noetianism and Patripassianism) 
…taught that the three persons of the Trinity as different “modes” of the Godhead. Adherants believed that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not distinct personalities, but different modes of God’s self-revelation. A typical modalist approach is to regard God as the Father in creation, the Son in redemption, and the Spirit in sanctification. In other words, God exists as Father, Son and Spirit in different eras, but never as triune. Stemming from Modalism, Patripassianism believed that the Father suffered as the Son.

So what’s at stake? Nothing less than the very nature of God Himself. Modalism tells us that God is not the God of orthodox Christianity. He operates in another way. It’s a denial of who God is in His very nature. And when you get God Himself wrong, well then you’re very wrong indeed. You’re a heretic.

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71 comments on “Modalism – Why Does it Matter?

  1. Hi Dave,

    helpful, as always – but I think you can do a bit better.

    Why is Modalism bad? What do we lose if God is preached as one without existing as three persons eternally relating? How would it affect whether hearing the gospel that Christ, who is Lord, has died for my sins and so gives me new life, and so believing whether I’ll be saved, or not.

    I accept that someone will be labelled a heretic if they are modalist, and that being a heretic isn’t necessarily the best thing, but why, theologically speaking, is it bad?

    Let me start you off, just off the top of my head.

    I think that you must lose significant meaning in the incarnation and subsequently Jesus sin-bearing work on the cross. What would it mean for ONE God (=Father?) to take on human flesh? I can’t speculate, but surely the meaning would be significantly different.

    I think you must lose something of the meaning of Jesus’ words when he speaks – ‘The Father and I are one’, ‘Glorify your son, so that your son may glorify you’, and so on.

    I think you must lose something of the revelatory work of the incarnation – that the ‘word’ became flesh, and that God has spoken finally and completely in and through his Son (who is the exact representation of his nature).

    I think it questions whether we have someone who speaks on our behalf and prays for us at the Father’s side, who as our high priest has gone before us

    I think to say that the Spirit gifts his church ‘as he wills’, or blows ‘wherever he wants’ again loses some meaning.

    I think it means little for Jesus to say that the Father and the Son will dwell in his people (by the Spirit) if God doesn’t eternally exist as three persons.

    I think it has significant impact on what we understand humanity to be, as persons, in relationships, if God himself does not eternally exist as three persons.

    God, being God, perhaps all these things are possible for him without being three persons. I am convinced that the testimony of the Scriptures is that God does exist as three persons eternally relating. But lets do some proper work here, and think through the implications, rather than just calling someone a heretic.

    A serious question I have, and perhaps its because of the particular theological lake I’m flapping around in here, is this, while its much easier to call someone a ‘heretic’ if they deny the historic creeds of the church, and deny the nature of God, will someone’s lack of clarity about the Trinity (or errors) do as much damage as say teaching and directing people to put their faith in laws/works, or in expecting all the blessings of God to be material and to be for the present age? Many of us, practically speaking, emphasis God’s threeness or his oneness perhaps to much at times, and practically speaking tend to be either Modalists or Tritheists – (while still affirming the creeds) — but are we teaching and proclaiming Christ crucified so that people would put their faith in him.

    that’s a genuine question – but I put it to you that you can do a lot more in showing us why modalism is bad than just calling it heresy. I think you could also show us *from the Bible* why modalism doesn’t fit the testimony of Scriptures.

    Mike

    • Mike, what you “lose” by affirming the Trinity is monotheism. There is no way you can affirm that there are really distinct persons who are fully divine and at the same time affirm that there is only one God. Your subjective analysis of what you think you’ll lose does not justify logical contradictions.

  2. Good stuff. Good comments from Mike too. I think Modalism occurs because we think God’s internal relationships are incidental to the real issue – our existence and salvation. But of course it’s the other way round: we are saved so that the Son will be honoured; and the Father in him through the Spirit.

    • Hey Andrew – great stuff – Rom 8:29 glorifying the son (that he would be first born of many brothers – magnifying his sonship (without suggesting it is not already perfect)??) and Rom 8:15 glorifying the father (that we, made sons, would call him Abba, Father – magnifying his fatherhood (without suggesting that it is not already perfect)??) – all by the Spirit. Also Heb 2. I like it!

      • Thanks guys. Appreciate you filling out my brief post.

        Another that particularly strikes me is this

        Heb. 9:14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

        A wonderfully Trinitarian description of the atonement. The Son (here denoted as the Christ) offers himself through/by the Spirit to God (the Father). Awesome; each with different actions but all working in unity.

      • Amen! I think the key to the perfection issue is to remember that this is God ad extra. The world is a new venue in which God installs himself and his Son via theophany and incarnation. It is an overflow of God’s perfection. God the king *becomes* king again through the story of the world. God the Son is made Son again in a new way in his human life.

        • I’ve long understood the “perfection” language in terms of reaching the intended telos. So the Son “is perfected” ie achieves all He was meant to achieve, by His suffering. Even if my language is not quite precise, I trust you understand what I mean.

          • I do – and it is what I mean too. Obviously Heb 5:9 is the locus classicus here in describing his sufferings as qualifying him to be our priest. But the same pattern applies to his whole ministry. He is “perfected” as God’s Son (in the functional, messianic sense) by atoning for sin and by conquering death. That, I take, is why passages like Rom 1:4 and Acts 13:33 seem to make him achieve sonship through the resurrection. Without ceasing to be what he always was (God’s real Son) in eternity, he *becomes* – and is made perfect/complete as – God’s Son in a new way.

  3. Lets look at it this way ….human marriage is real, but also an analog, a model, a reflection.

    My wife is not me, and I am not my wife. We are two. Yet we are one. We are one unit, and we are one in our children. In God’s eyes we are one, spiritually. (What God has joined together …)

    Man (male and female) is made in the image of God (Let Us make them …)

    We are two, and we are one. And we are spiritually one as well.

    I have no problem with the classic Christian orthodoxy of the Trinity,

    Modalism does not work for me. and I can accept that it is in essence heretical.

    It might be ok to study at Bible College.

    It is no good being taught in the Pulpit.

  4. I don't know who this 'Apologist' is but he is off target here 🙁 He was wrong on two accounts surely (two in 1 min!!) (1) He says that in Modalism God is not three independent persons (implying that God is that). He also says that at Jesus' Baptism you have the three separate persons of the Godhead. Well, according to 'Standard Orthodoxy', God is not three independent (?!) or separate (?!) persons! Perhaps a better word would be distinct. (2) Also, he says Modalism teaches God had this mode/mask then that mode/mask. But Modalism often teaches that these modes are simultaneous, not successive. No wonder an 'entire denomination' is off on a wrong footing when public apologists don't know their stuff! Cranky rant over.

    • “Modalism often teaches that these modes are simultaneous, not successive” – Do you mean Barth? If so, good point. Or did you have others in mind?
      It’s tricky about that “separate” business. “Distinct” would indeed be better! But isn’t it interesting that the Father and Son reveal themselves to us most wonderfully at the moment of their separation?

    • Insightful comments, Andrew. If one is going to either affirm a position or critique another, it’s best to get it right. Sequential modalism is something Sabellius was accused of, but it’s a stretch to draw conclusions about a doctrine through the lens of its enemies. Modern modalists (Oneness Pentecostals and Swedenborgians) specifically reject successive modal revelation except an overall, general manner.

      And, yes, the doctrines of “separate persons” or “independent persons” are also specifically rejected by most trinitarians.

  5. I don’t know who this ‘Apologist’ is but he is off target here 🙁 He was wrong on two accounts surely (two in 1 min!!) (1) He says that in Modalism God is not three independent persons (implying that God is that). He also says that at Jesus’ Baptism you have the three separate persons of the Godhead. Well, according to ‘Standard Orthodoxy’, God is not three independent (?!) or separate (?!) persons! Perhaps a better word would be distinct. (2) Also, he says Modalism teaches God had this mode/mask then that mode/mask. But Modalism often teaches that these modes are simultaneous, not successive. No wonder an ‘entire denomination’ is off on a wrong footing when public apologists don’t know their stuff! Cranky rant over.

  6. James White is very helpful on this topic. Modalism is, quite simply, idol worship, thus breaks the greatest commandment.
    I can’t for the life of me think why someone would embrace modalism, except for the foolishness of the human mind and the sinfulness of our heart.

    • Actually, I think James White is himself confused with respect to his terminology. It is actually tritheism masquerading as monotheism.

  7. I know this post is quite old, but I’d like to know how you’re able to cogently assert monotheism while simultaneously affirming three distinct persons in God who are each fully God. In my mind, it is not simply beyond comprehension, it entails logical inversions (contradictions) which render the assertion false on its face.

  8. Two things:

    1 – It serves us well to recognise that the nature of God is not comparable to anything else in all creation. Thus it ought not surprise us that the ineffable transcendent God exceeds our capacity of comprehension. The more so when we accept that The Fall lead not only to our flesh being sinful but to our intellect being seared. God may be known, not from without but only from what He is within Himself. This is the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the Christian. The doctrine of The Trinity rests on the testimony of Scripture not on an appeal to, or the capacity of, rational human thinking.

    2 – If God is a monad, as Modalism purports, then what does it mean to say “God is love” (1 John 4:8)? Who does God love in eternity past, when there was no creation, other than Himself? If God is one being in three phases/manifestations then love is nothing else than self-absorption and eternal self-affection! Not only that but nfinte self-affection, in which case ther is no prospect of men and women entering into the sealed bubble of God’s self-preoccupation! If there is no eternality to the concept of ‘relationship’ then how does God, in Himself relate in love to anything.

    Here at least the Muslims are correct. For them Allah is unknowable. He is beyond relating to.

    It is this fact of the inherency of relationship that I consider to be an important aspect of the Trinitarian faith. If such inherency be not the case then there is no sense to the love by which The Father sent the Son to be our redeemer. Neither is there any sense in the notion of Christ as mediator.

    If love be a concept which lies outside the reality of who God is within Himself, then it is not an absolute reality which derives from the essence of God but a concept, a philosophical proposition, an abstract premise to which God submits. Which if true means that God is not the self-sufficient One, the I AM of the burning bush and we are back to the Socratic dilemma. Is love good because the gods say it is good or do the gods say it is good because it is good?

    Truth, love and wisdom are not concepts outside of God. They are realities which flow from the “what isness of what is” within God.

    • @ChrisFish

      Thanks for your post, Chris. In reply, some Oneness adherents, including yours truly, would reply that according to Romans 1:20, God’s essence can be clearly seen by the things that are made. Given that God is infinite and we are finite, I think it’s obvious that there are many things about God which are beyond the reach of our comprehension. Nonetheless, we can via natural revelation accurately conclude some non-contradictory things about Him.

      You say that the doctrine of the Trinity (DT) “rests on the testimony of Scripture not an appeal to, or the capacity of, rational human thinking,” however, no appeal to Scripture entails logical contradictions. If it is your position that the Scriptures teach logical contradictions, then we can have confidence in nothing it teaches. The assertion that God exists is equivalent to God does not exist, and the statement, Thou shalt not commit adultery is equivalent to, Thou shalt commit adultery. Moreover, how in the world can we appeal to the Scriptures unless we are committed to logical coherence? It is impossible to communicate unless we can accurately identify the words and render an exclusive meaning to said words. And if the conclusion you draw from the scriptural record is something equivalent to married bachelors, then I’ve got to conclude that your conclusion is false.

      It is our position that the DT, in all its variations, entails logical contradictions and cannot, therefore, be considered a template for biblical interpretation. You cannot tell me that you believe in one God when your definition tells me that there are three. You cannot tell me that each person of the Godhead is fully God when your definition tells me that they are fractionally God. And if an appeal to the ineffable is a legitimate maneuver to excuse contradiction, then it’s a legitimate maneuver for everybody you disagree with. It becomes an “out” for every logical conundrum we face. No appeal to the Scriptures will justify tritheism or partial godism. If a template produces contradictory results, then there’s something wrong with the template. We thus strip ourselves of the warrant to critique opposing viewpoints.

      With respect to love, I think that you are begging the question in favor of multi-personal love. We are commanded to love one another as we love ourselves. If self-love is impossible or illegitimate, why are we commanded to base our love for others on it? And no, love is not something that stands apart from God that somehow adds to or perfects Him. As the only simple being, He is the perfection of love.

    • Thanks for your reply, Chris, but you never got around to defending the logical coherence of the Trinity, except to imply that I’m somehow looking at it through a natural and not a spiritual lens. If that’s all I’m going to get, then the same appeal is available to every competing group which undermines any warrant to critique said views. An Arian can reply that your trinitarian lens is “carnal” whereas his Arian lens is “spiritual.” You cannot point to contradictions between the Scriptures and the conclusions they draw because you’ve excused the same with your own doctrine. For example, when Jesus said to the Father, “…that they may be one as we are,” trinitarians cite that as proof that the “one” in “one God” is a composite unity, thereby showing how God can be both one and three. That appears coherent until you add, “…by the way, each person is fully God.” Wait a second!! I’m not “carnal” or “natural” when I cry foul. All composites are assemblages of parts with each part by definition being a fraction of the whole. So either stick to the composite argument or quit trying to tell me that you believe in one God. Please don’t be offended because I don’t say this to be insulting, but it’s that kind of double-speak that has been the breeding ground of all sorts of perversion in the name of Christianity. “If you were really spiritual, you’d see that this is what you should do” is illegitimate because that’s not proper exegesis. The so-what-if-my-doctrine-is-self-contradictory-it’s-still-biblical defense is false on its face. Since contradictions can never be true, as an advocate, your job is to demonstrate that it’s not a contradiction.

      Now, against that you, for the most part, have demonstrated the logical coherence of alleged opposing thoughts or perhaps paradoxes found in the Bible. In other words, alleged inconsistencies are resolved by context and differing senses of the terms employed. But surely you know that there’s a world of difference between an inconsistency and a contradiction. It’s always possible to resolve an inconsistency, but it is impossible to resolve a contradiction. “A” will never imply the negation of “A” in the same respect. This is a metaphysical principle which flows from God’s essence which of course means that it is inviolable. Besides, I think you misunderstood my statements. I am only saying that if you allege that the Bible affirms genuine contradictions, then you must acknowledge that the true contradiction of everything the Bible teaches has equal force. And that of course renders the Bible a meaningless book.

      As you know, the fundamental planks of the DT are not found in the Bible. They are rather conclusions drawn by its proponents from what they consider sufficient biblical data. But since the affirmations cancel each other, no sense can be made of them. It is no different from my saying that you must affirm the biblical doctrine of married bachelors. You would rightly reply that it is impossible for the Bible to teach said doctrine because the concept itself is self-canceling and therefore unintelligible. As a proponent, you are rationally obligated to demonstrate its logical coherence in the same manner that you’ve demonstrated the other matters. Respectfully, you don’t get to assume it’s coherent because paradoxes are. By the way, begging the question (petitio principii) means that you’re assuming what stands to be proved or is disputed.

      Since you’ve stated that you cannot show how three different persons who are each fully God are really one God, I assume no attempt will be forthcoming any time soon. But any appeal to mystery or “spiritual lenses” is an automatic show-stopper as I argue above. Everybody can now appeal to them to resolve logical conundrums. This of course logically leads to relativism of the grossest kind which is what I don’t think you intend.

      Finally, with respect to love, the command to love God does not dilute the force of the command to love others as we love ourselves. In other words, the proximate basis of our love for others is our love for ourselves. Self-love is therefore both possible and legitimate. We are made in God’s image and likeness. If we can love ourselves, then God can certainly love Himself. Love, then, does not necessitate another.

      • “As a proponent [of DT] , you are rationally obligated to demonstrate its logical coherence…”.

        I don’t know about ChrisFish, but I would not care to argue with you on the terms that you set.

        It is appropriate, firstly, to show that your persistent allegations are false viz. that Trinitarianism is logically contradictory. (By the way, this is the same as to say that it is inconsistent). I did so, at July 16.

        Certainly you are right to say that Trinitarianism is not asserted in Scripture, but this is the historic reading of Scripture by the saints, regardless of the Constantinian enculturation of the early church.

        Be that as it may, the faith and hope of the redeemed is that we follow the living Christ who is God the Son, whereas it is not by philosophical inquiry that the deity of Jesus could ever rightly be affirmed or denied.

        • @chris russell

          You’re literally the third “Chris” I’ve recently interacted with on this subject. 🙂

          You say, “…I would not care to argue with you on the terms that you set,” but since you acknowledge that “Trinitarianism is not asserted in the Scripture,” how do you reply if I ask you, upon hearing that you believe in the Trinity, what that’s supposed to be? And once you give me your explanation and I ask, “How is that different from tritheism?” would you still say that you’re not going to discuss the matter on the terms that I set?

          Actually, the discussion of the Trinity is on the terms that you set. The onus is always on the one making the assertion to demonstrate its logical coherence to those who do not understand it. Of course, I have made the claim that the DT is contradictory, and I’d be happy to demonstrate why when I hear just which version of the Trinity you espouse (I don’t want to skewer a straw man). Nonetheless, I can also tell when a person doesn’t want to discuss a topic, so if you’d rather not, no skin here.

          • Scalia, I don’t know that you did hear that I believe in the Trinity. I note that dogma is the product of the institutionalisation of the Gospel, and that, as such, it may not truly be in the interests of the church. So, yes, I would still say that I’m not going to discuss the matter on the terms that you set. That is not to say that it may not seem to you that you hear that I believe in the Trinity, and that you should think, “what that’s supposed to be?”

            • @chris russell

              Whether or not you actually believe in the Trinity, you said that it isn’t a logical contradiction. I would think that if you’re going to post that claim publicly, you would at least attempt to answer reasonable questions. Again, if that’s not your cup of tea, it’s no skin off my nose, but you shouldn’t have commented if you didn’t want to discuss it.

              Adieu.

              • Scalia, I did answer your reasonable questions, but you went on regardless declaring that the notion of the Trinity is a logical contradiction. Now you’re running for cover.

                • Where did you answer my questions? I’ve looked through every one of your replies and didn’t see it. Also, how in the world am I “running for cover” when I continue to post on the topic? I’m sorry, but that’s simply bizarre.

                  • Then I refer you again to my comment 17 July, at 9:56pm. It may be of help were you to consider that I might well have raised essentially a methodological objection to your position.

                    • You keep referring to your July 17th (9:56pm) comment which I’ve replied to multiple times. Once again:

                      It is appropriate, firstly, to show that your persistent allegations are false viz. that Trinitarianism is logically contradictory. (By the way, this is the same as to say that it is inconsistent). I did so, at July 16.

                      Certainly you are right to say that Trinitarianism is not asserted in Scripture, but this is the historic reading of Scripture by the saints, regardless of the Constantinian enculturation of the early church.

                      Be that as it may, the faith and hope of the redeemed is that we follow the living Christ who is God the Son, whereas it is not by philosophical inquiry that the deity of Jesus could ever rightly be affirmed or denied.

                      But you haven’t shown that my “persistent allegations are false”; you merely assert it is so. Proof by assertion is false because it makes every claim true because it’s asserted. And if that is the case, then my claim that the DT is inherently contradictory is true merely because I assert it. That of course means that you have in effect said nothing.

                      As to the “historic reading of Scripture,” that is demonstrably false because history discloses myriad readings discordant with the DT. What you should have said is that the DT is one of the historic readings of Scripture. Interestingly enough, Tertullian, who is credited with being one of the men who coined the term “Trinity,” acknowledged that his view was the minority one in his day.

                      As to your claim that “it is not by philosophical inquiry that the deity of Jesus could ever rightly be affirmed or denied,” is a straw man. First, I do not deny the deity of Jesus (you shouldn’t make assumptions; just ask). Second, if you equate “philosophical inquiry” with merely asking what the terms you use mean, no question about the Scriptures is legitimate. Moreover, it is the substantive equivalent of saying, “The Bible teaches sjejewme,” and when I ask, “What is sjejewme?” and you reply, “I’m not going to answer that on your terms,” I’ll rightly retort, “The quit speaking to me. If you expect me to believe something I don’t understand, the problem is with you, not me.”

                      You guys came up with the word “Trinity,” so if you don’t have a sweet clue what that’s supposed to mean, then quit telling people to believe in it (if you’re a trinitarian, that is). And if you do know what it means, then you should have no problem explaining it (since even if you don’t believe it, your claim that it is not contradictory implies that you understand it). In all candor, I’ve discussed the Trinity perhaps thousands of times in my lifetime with laypersons and scholars, and I’ve never encountered such a bob-and-weave effort. That’s not a scriptural method; it’s an admission of impotence.

                      Mark 12
                      29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

                      Romans 1
                      20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

                      Clearly, then, both the Scriptures and natural revelation demonstrate the essence of God to unbelievers, and that essence is numerically one and indivisible. There is nothing “carnal” about asking you to define your terminology, and if you keep insisting that it is, then show me the Scripture that says that.

                    • Scalia, I detect a tone of irritation in your replies, which is unfortunate. You can not expect that all your disputants will set themselves up as sitting ducks for you. This is my reply to your comment, dated July 19, at 4.14 am.

                      “… you haven’t shown that my persistent allegations are false”. I did so July 16, at 10.36am. I would refer you, further, to any basic text in formal logic. Consider, “bachelor” is defined as “unmarried male”; thus it is inconsistent to refer to a married bachelor. “God” is not defined as being numerically one. At least, this is not the case according to the revelation of Himself in both Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ, according to those called Christians. If you are presupposing a non-standard definition of the term “God”, then it would be a petitio to argue that a Trinitarian concept of God is logically contradictory.
                      The qualifier, “historic Christian…”, is generally used simply to refer to what is considered orthodox in the history of Christian thought eg. the DT. No need to argue over this. You must distinguish your own usage of relevant terms, not resent that it is not accepted by others.
                      Likewise the term “deity of Jesus” is generally used in the conventional sense i.e. qua second person of the Trinity. No need to argue over this. You must distinguish your own usage of relevant terms, not resent that it is not accepted by others.
                      I also equate the term “philosophical inquiry” with its conventional usage in academic circles. No need to argue over this, of course.
                      I would expect you to believe numerous things that you might not understand. I may not understand quantum mechanics, but I can rightly believe it on the basis of the testimony of physicists. I may not understand the love of God, but I can rightly believe it on the basis of the testimony of the saints.
                      Whether you or I believe in “the Trinity” (whatever that is) is not the point. I have claimed merely that the concept is not logically inconsistent, and that it is actually a product of the institutionalising of the Gospel. I have indicated merely that I don’t use this terminology, personally. No need to argue over this, unless you want to.
                      Despite your denials, it is evident that, like me, you do understand Trinitarianism. It is the theological doctrine that God exists in three persons. I also understand an alternative doctrine, namely, that God is “numerically one and indivisible”, but I don’t use this terminology, either. Evidently you do want to argue over this.
                      Mark 12:29 attributes to Jesus the saying that the Lord our God is one Lord. It does not attribute to Him the thesis that God is numerically one and indivisible, or that God does not exist in three persons. Such attributions arose when it came about that the early Church and its heretics were absorbed by the world, and came up with various doctrines of God, original sin etc. Most of us are still sick in the mire, including you.

        • One more thing: Yes, a logical contradiction is inconsistent but in a different manner than resolvable inconsistencies. Contradictions cannot be resolved. Of course, one must prove, not simply assert, a contradiction, and that is something I think can be demonstrated by an objective analysis of the DT.

  9. The Trinitarian doctrine that God exists in three person is not a logical contradiction. It would be inconsistent if and only if it implied that God does not exist in three persons.

        • @chris russell

          You made the claim that “God exists in three person(s)” is not a logical contradiction. I’m challenging that claim by asking for an explanation. If all you’re saying is that, strictly speaking, the claim that God exists in three persons is not a contradiction, I would agree if and only if you’re implying that God is a composite unity. Since everything that exists, except God, is a composite unity, the questioned statement, though inapplicable to God, is not in itself contradictory.

          So, if you’re a trinitarian, your claim is contradictory in another way, because all variations of the DT affirm the full deity of each person. In other words, each person is fully God. That clearly cannot work for composite unities. The part is not the whole by definition.

      • Modalism?

        Pffft. Ummm …no.

        Matt 27:42-43 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

        Matt 27:46b “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me”

  10. Scalia

    Thanks for your thanks (of 16 July 2020)

    As to the cost of having a non-contradictory Gospel

    It troubles you that the doctrine of the Trinity is a logical contradiction. Does this not mean that we should also ditch the doctrine of the Incarnation since it is a contradiction to say that He who is The Word and is God became flesh (John 1:1&14) is simultaneously finite and infinite. How does the finite retain the infinite? Or is it not a contradiction to say that He who was born in Bethlehem is the same as He whose “existence has been from antiquity, even eternity” (Mic 5:2 ISV)?

    Is there not a contradiction between Rom 1:20 and 1 Cor 2:14? The one text saying that aspects of God’s nature can be known to the natural mind from the natural world and the other saying that the natural mind cannot receive the things of God?Those that ponder such things would say that in the first instance scripture is seeking to establish that all have some sense of what righteousness means but despite this all have sinned (Rom 3:21). Whereas the other is saying that an understanding of Christ’s cross does not rely on men’s eloquence or argumentation but on the Holy Spirit.

    The two scriptures cease to be a contradiction when set within the full ambit of Biblical truth.

    The appeal to scripture must entail logical coherence

    You make us of The Law to argue the consequence of neglecting logical coherence, saying that the opposite to marital integrity is adultery. Scripture does command an opposite to adultery: “Husbands love you wives” (Col 3:19). The same as it commands an opposite to don’t steal: “Let him whole stole steal no more, rather let him work I order that he may have something to give” (Eph 4:28) i.e. “be generous”. The opposite to don’t kill is to love one another.

    My point is that the logic of the Biblically informed mind is not the same as the thought processes of the natural mind. The Biblically informed mind would never see “Thou shalt not commit adultery” as having the opposite of “Thou shall commit adultery” because the Biblically based thinker knows that the carnal mind is at enmity with God and is not subject to The Law of God (Rom 8:7) and that the overall trajectory of Biblical thinking is toward righteousness.

    And so correct reasoning is derived from within Scripture not by using the natural mind which lies outside Scripture.

    Loving one’s self

    It seems to me imprudent to argue that self-love, to the extent of loving our neighbour, is a suitable referent as evidence of love. I say this for two reasons.

    a) The requirement to love others as one’s self is the second of the two great commandments. Thus we love others as ourselves because God requires that we love Him. So our perspective on love must start with that which He sets forth or defines as love. On this basis God Himself is the standard and indeed source of love (Rom 5:5). So I don’t think that my concern as to what love looks like from within the Godhead is begging the question. (Small confession here – I never really understand what that phrase means!)

    b) The world is replete with sin-sick people who in their self-indulgence are damaging their health, relationships and eternal well being. Not only that but such people will often seek out and gather around them people with the same self-destructive habits, as Paul would say, “taking pleasure in those that do them (Rom 1:32). This sharing in sin is then understood as loving others as one loves one’s self.

    Conclusion

    (I bet you thought I’d never get here!) All our reasoning, whether in regard to contradictions in The Word, opposites in The Law or definitions of love, must draw their origin from the context and rationale of scripture. Scripture presents an “internal logic” which is not always consistent with the natural mind. Indeed we ought be surprised if it were.

    The appeal to human logic as the maxim for handling Scripture will negate important other truths such as the Incarnation. To lose this is to lose our salvation since we are then without a mediator.

    Hence I return to (and perhaps would expand on) the original premise of my first comment “The doctrine of The Trinity [indeed any attempt to reason as to the important things in life] must rest on the testimony of Scripture not on an appeal to, or the capacity of, rational human thinking.”

    Cheers and once again – thanks

    P.S. I observe that your comment to me was logged at 1.30 a.m. I wouldn’t have thought such matters were worth staying out of bed for? This is to assume that you are not a shift worker or some such.

    • Chris, I replied to your comment, but I must have forgotten to click the actual “Reply” button. You can read my response HERE.

      • Scalia

        My “appeal to mystery or “spiritual lenses”” was meant to be a presentation of the need for Biblical thinking, as distinct from philosophical definitions, when performing exegesis. I apologise if I have failed to defend the “logical coherence of the Trinity” to your satisfaction but may I point out that neither have you succeeded in addressing my question as to whether the Incarnation was logically incoherent since it requires us to believe that the Infinite/Eternal Being occupied finite/time-space reality. This is probably my error as I am prone to being prolix. Too many ideas in one comment box!

        Therefore I reiterate – am I wrong to suggest that the Incarnation is at core a logical inconsistency?

        Or am I wrong to see Peter’s preaching at Pentecost as logically inconsistent, in that he says that Christ’s crucifixion was before ordained by God but the Sanhedrin is culpable for that murder (Acts 2:23)? That is, is God’s sovereignty logically inconsistent with man’s accountability?

        I guess that I am happy to receive that which you term a logical incoherence as a paradox.

        Further (at the risk of including too much in the one comment box) I am struggling with your insistence that “All composites are assemblages of parts with each part by definition being a fraction of the whole” and that therefore God can’t be a compound one. If this is Trinitarian gobbledygook, then I am happy be cast a gook of the first order, because when God declares Himself as “One” scripture uses the word ‘echad’ (Deut 6:4) which in Hebrew is a compound one.

        This same word is used to describe Adam and Eve as one in their marital relations (Gen 2:24) and also the promise that under the New Covenant God will give his people one heart (Jer 32:39). Moreover, Hebrew also includes a word which means solitary oneness. That word is yachid and it is never used to speak of God. It seems that God is content to known, if not insistent to be known, as a compound one. IF that satisfactory for Him, that I feel unable to make exception.

        Thanks for taking the trouble of replying.

        • @ChrisFish

          Thanks for your reply, Chris, but we’ll have to deal with one subject at a time. I will only say in passing that I do not believe that the incarnation is a logical contradiction. It carries nowhere near the logical baggage that the DT does.

          You write:

          I am struggling with your insistence that “All composites are assemblages of parts with each part by definition being a fraction of the whole” and that therefore God can’t be a compound one. If this is Trinitarian gobbledygook, then I am happy be cast a gook of the first order, because when God declares Himself as “One” scripture uses the word ‘echad’ (Deut 6:4Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) which in Hebrew is a compound one.

          It appears from your appeal to echad that my accurate definition of composite can safely be sidestepped because the Bible informs us that God is a composite. I would say in reply that if God is a composite, then He cannot be God by definition for the reasons I stated. No being lacking ontological and logical primacy is God. A dependent God is not God by definition. That, then, clearly signals that there is something deeply flawed with your appeal to echad

          I have Israeli friends whose native tongue is Hebrew, one of whom is a professor to teaches Hebrew to English students. Also, as any credible Hebrew lexicon will tell you, echad is simply the Hebrew word for “one,” the primary usage of which is the number “1.” Echad occurs some 970 times in the Old Testament and is overwhelmingly used as a numerical singularity. That said, the significant minority of usages also reflect a compound unity, thus making echad a parallel to our word “one.” Some examples of numerical singularity are:

          Genesis 2
          21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept: and he took one (echad) of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

          Genesis 4
          19 And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one (echad) was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.

          Exodus 26
          Ten cubits shall be the length of a board, and a cubit and a half shall be the breadth of one (echad) board.

          Ezekiel 37
          24 And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one (echad) shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.

          Examples such as these can be multiplied literally hundreds of times, so, no, echad does NOT always refer to a compound unity, and given that, since you use the word compound, you own its implications. And that means that each person in your Godhead is at best fractionally God and that “God” is dependent on something other than God (for no fractional God is wholly God) for His actuation and continued existence. And that of course signals clearly that God cannot be a composite entity. So, though echad may indeed reflect a composite, it cannot be so applied to God if you want to sustain the DT.

          Now, lest you remain suspicious of my observations due to my modalism, my critique of your compound unity doctrine actually stems from the majority of trinitarian scholars. The vast majority of trinitarians, at least on paper (Catholics, Anglicans, Reformed and several other mainline Protestants and Evangelicals) stridently deny composition in the Godhead, and they consider a composed God heretical. In fact, Catholic philosopher Ed Feser calls such a view “atheism” because it denies divine ontological primacy. So, your debate over composition in the Godhead should really be directed at the majority of trinitarians because they consider you a heretic.

          • Thanks Scalia. Always happy to learn. Are you able to give me a reference for Mr Feser’s assessment please?

            I might note that being an errant Trinitarian doesn’t make modalism correct. I accept your comment about ‘echad’ but doesn’t that assist my Trinitarian position, since it would appear that the word carries both singular and plurality in its meaning? (I’m trying to avoid the word ‘compound’ until I find out why I’m wrong. 🙂

            • ChrisFish, the reference is Feser’s Five Proofs of the Existence of God, 2017, p. 185.

              If you are happy to learn, then you may find Feser’s blog, dated Feb 10 2010, to be helpful. Feser lists the following propositions 1-7 as being implied by the New Testament.

              The Father is God.
              The Son is God.
              The Holy Spirit is God.
              The Father is not the Son.
              The Father is not the Holy Spirit.
              The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
              There is exactly one God.

              Feser continues as follows.

              “…. The Trinitarian theologian maintains that the Trinitarian propositions (1) – (7) listed above are perfectly consistent when rightly understood, so that if any reading of them seems self-contradictory, then that reading is mistaken, and does not accurately convey what the doctrine says. Hence if the doctrine “appears contradictory” to you, you have by that very fact misunderstood it and are not really entertaining it at all. At the same time, if you give these propositions an alternate reading on which their consistency is entirely transparent, you have no doubt fallen into some heresy or other. So, the right thing to say would seem to be this … with respect to the Trinity … not that (1) – (7) appear or must appear contradictory, but rather that their meaning is not entirely apparent in the first place”.

              Feser is doing philosophical theology, and doing it well. However he is not reading the New Testament so that God might speak to him. (He may do that in church). I’d argue that it’s poor form for the believer to ever read the Word of God in order to establish a set of propositions which it might imply. Similarly, I’d say that we do not find in the Hebrew or the Greek a propositional revelation from the Almighty God that is not available to us in the vernacular.

            • @ChrisFish

              Certainly! Feser writes the following in Simply Irresistible:

              These are the reasons why defenders of divine simplicity sometimes go so far as to argue that to deny the doctrine entails atheism. For if being an uncaused cause and being absolutely unique entail simplicity, then to deny that there is anything that is simple or non-composite is implicitly to deny that there is an absolutely unique uncaused cause. And since to be God just is to be an absolutely unique uncaused cause, to deny divine simplicity is therefore implicitly to deny the existence of God.

              Please read the entire article, for Feser lays out the basic Catholic position against composition in the divine essence.

            • @ChrisFish

              With respect to echad, I think I explained why composition cannot apply to God, even if echad can be so used in certain contexts. Since God cannot be composite, we have to conclude that the use of echad with respect to God signifies a numerical singularity.

    • @chris russell, you write:

      I detect a tone of irritation in your replies, which is unfortunate. You can not expect that all your disputants will set themselves up as sitting ducks for you.

      The “irritation” is due to your continued dodging and multiple goodbyes. I keep thinking that the conversation is over due to your lack of interest in participating, and you keep coming back with what I consider obfuscation. And as to whether you’re setting yourself up as a “sitting duck,” that all depends on whether your definitions can withstand logical scrutiny.

      “God” is not defined as being numerically one. At least, this is not the case according to the revelation of Himself in both Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ, according to those called Christians. If you are presupposing a non-standard definition of the term “God”, then it would be a petitio to argue that a Trinitarian concept of God is logically contradictory.

      This is extremely curious because God being numerically one IS the standard definition of God according to the majority of trinitarians in the world. Catholics, Anglicans, Reformed, several mainline Protestant and Evangelical groups expressly affirm the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS) which abjures any real composition in the divine substance, that it is numerically one and indivisible. Maybe you’re unaware of it, but there are several contemporary variations of the DT from the DDS, “monarchial” trinitarianism (espoused by some eastern churches), and various composite trinitarian faith statements from groups who reject the DDS (e.g. William Craig and his Cerberus analogy). So, perhaps you should take up a discussion with the majority of your fellow trinitarians over whether God is numerically one. They consider any denial that God is numerically one heretical.

      Moreover, if you’re going to refer to God as “Himself,” perhaps you should remind yourself that such pronouns are reserved for one person, not three.

      The qualifier, “historic Christian…”, is generally used simply to refer to what is considered orthodox in the history of Christian thought eg. the DT. No need to argue over this. You must distinguish your own usage of relevant terms, not resent that it is not accepted by others.

      But your view, as stated, isn’t orthodox—no need to argue over this. Of course, you can simply assert that your view is the scriptural one and the “orthodox” version isn’t, but that won’t advance your appeal to any “historic reading.”

      Likewise the term “deity of Jesus” is generally used in the conventional sense i.e. qua second person of the Trinity. No need to argue over this. You must distinguish your own usage of relevant terms, not resent that it is not accepted by others.

      But on both counts, I don’t resent a thing. If you don’t want to discuss a matter, then quit discussing it. I generally don’t keep posting when I don’t want to talk about a subject. You appeared to presume that I denied Christ’s deity, so don’t “resent” it when I give you the good advice to not assume such things.

      I also equate the term “philosophical inquiry” with its conventional usage in academic circles. No need to argue over this, of course. I would expect you to believe numerous things that you might not understand.

      Asking you what you mean by the term “Trinity,” is something any unbeliever who knows next to nothing about the Bible would ask you. And any Joe off the street can ask how three fully divine persons who are really different from each other can be one God. I believe that you acknowledged that you couldn’t show how that’s possible (it’s not because it IS a straight contradiction), so you shouldn’t resent it when folks call you on it.

      Whether you or I believe in “the Trinity” (whatever that is) is not the point. I have claimed merely that the concept is not logically inconsistent, and that it is actually a product of the institutionalising of the Gospel.

      And I can demonstrate why every version of the DT is contradictory. To paraphrase Aristotle with respect to contradiction, all one needs to prove it is to say something. Just pick any version of the Trinity and the contradictions emerge on its own terms. The reason I haven’t fully explicated why is over your refusal to define the DT.

      Despite your denials, it is evident that, like me, you do understand Trinitarianism. It is the theological doctrine that God exists in three persons. I also understand an alternative doctrine, namely, that God is “numerically one and indivisible”, but I don’t use this terminology, either. Evidently you do want to argue over this.

      When did I deny knowing what the DT is? If I implied that, then I offer my apologies up front. I simply don’t want to assume which version my interlocutor affirms since I’m not interested in refuting a straw man. I’m very familiar with trinitarian thought and have read numerous works defending its variations from Augustine to Aquinas to White to Craig.

      Mark 12:29 attributes to Jesus the saying that the Lord our God is one Lord. It does not attribute to Him the thesis that God is numerically one and indivisible, or that God does not exist in three persons.

      Well, let’s see:

      Mark 12
      32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but HE:

      And how did Jesus reply?

      34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.

      He didn’t say, “Oops! You need some theological refinement there!” To both Jesus and the scribe, the Lord God of Israel is a HE, not a they:

      Matthew 19
      4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that HE which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

      I believe some 20,000 times the Bible uses singular personal pronouns relative to God. Of course, a singular pronoun belongs to one person, not two or three.

      • Scalia, my comments which you apparently can not tolerate are anti-theological. The sense in which theologians may refer to God as numerically one and indivisible is not my problem. I am opposed to Trinitarianism, the theory of the Incarnation etc. etc. on what would count philosophically as methodological grounds; hence the brief reply to ChrisFish, July 19 at 12.15pm.

        You interpret this as “dodging” and “bobbing and weaving”, but this reflects simply your being ignorant. When somebody disagrees with you, listen carefully when they tell you clearly where they are coming from. It is childish, in mind and spirit, to be outraged in debate.

        • @chris russell

          And there’s a world of difference between irritation and outrage. I’m not outraged at all, but I will add that it’s childish in mind and spirit to accuse somebody of being something they’re not.

          And I also think that you should take your good advice to “listen carefully” to those you interact with. I acknowledged the possibility that you’re not trinitarian. Please recall that you asserted that there’s no contradiction and I’m at bottom simply saying that I can prove the contradiction once you pick a flavor.

          • Scalia, it is not a question of ‘picking a flavor’. There can be no contradiction if there is no putative explanation of the logical possibility of three persons co-existing in a Godhead. In that case, you may, like me, have an alternative objection to the doctrine.

            Further the issue is not whether you “acknowledged the possibility that you’re [I’m] not trinitarian”. This is trivial and personal. What you did not stop to consider was the limits of trinitarian theory.

            • If God is Modal and not Trinitarian, who ran the Universe while ‘God’ was modally Christ and descended to Hell, predestined by God and sent to Hell ?

              Modal = False God.

              • @Bruce Lyon

                You’re referring to the doctrine of sequential modalism which is not affirmed by anybody or Oneness group in the modern era. In fact, it is doubtful that Sabellius taught such a doctrine for it is weak, at best, to evaluate a doctrine solely on the description of its enemies.

                • Modalism espouses no different significant teaching than the famed the Grand Pooh-bah, ie the haughty character Pooh-Bah in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.

                  Pooh-bah also of course holds numerous exalted offices, including “First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief, Lord High Admiral … Archbishop … Lord Mayor” and “Lord High Everything Else”.

                  Get the picture ?

                  See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Poobah

                  • I’m here to have a discussion, not engage in grade-school sniping (e.g. “Poo-bah”). If you’re going to act like a baby, you’ll do it without my participation.

                    Now, in the hope that you’ll move beyond your childish behavior, I’ll answer the question. God fulfills myriad roles simultaneously. He didn’t vacate heaven while doing the work of Christ (Jn. 3:13, KJV). As the transcendent Spirit, He fills heaven and earth; as our Redeemer, He manifested Himself in flesh (2 Co. 5:19). Yes, He can do both and more simultaneously.

                    • An interesting verse, John 3:13. “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.”

                      As you yourself make the point, that “He [God] didn’t vacate heaven”, yet the Christ in saying “He who descended from Heaven”, Jesus himself, aka the Son of Man, directly contradicts your modal assertions.

                      Pooh-bah is be most displeased, said he to himself said he.

            • @chris russell

              How quickly you forget? I previously commented:

              If all you’re saying is that, strictly speaking, the claim that God exists in three persons is not a contradiction, I would agree if and only if you’re implying that God is a composite unity. Since everything that exists, except God, is a composite unity, the questioned statement, though inapplicable to God, is not in itself contradictory.

              I, of course, am not referring to the strict statement that composites exist or that it is contradictory to affirm composition in composite things. I was referring to the DT, not a generic statement about composition.

              • Scalia, simplicity is a red herring. Insofar as the Trinitarian does not explain the logical possibility of a triune God (see my reply, July 16, at 10.02pm; also, Feser, quoted in my reply, dated July 20, at 8:42pm), the doctrine is not contingent on extrinsic claims in relation to the attributes of God.

                • @chris russell

                  I didn’t bring up simplicity in the post you just replied to, so I don’t know what you’re talking about. Moreover, I couldn’t care less what the trinitarian doesn’t explain; they’ve been on record with their definitions for a very long time, and that is sufficient to demonstrate their logical incoherence. All I need to know is which version they espouse.

                  With respect to Feser, I believe that I replied on the the thread to which you refer without rebuttal from the regulars.

                    • @chris russell

                      What is this now, the fifth or sixth time our “conversation” has closed? Yes, it’s quite childish to repeat ad nauseam that the mere statement, “There is one God in three persons,” does not entail a logical contradiction. We’ve been around that maypole numerous times. You seem very enthralled with making bare assertions, and since that’s been your bizarre tack from the beginning, it is genuinely shocking that it took you this long to finally bail out. As I told you early on, if you don’t want to engage in a real discussion, then quit posting.

                      One more time: The DT, in all its forms, asserts logical contradictions and thus fails as a template for biblical interpretation. Nothing that is genuinely contradictory can be true, and since the DT is genuinely contradictory, it follows that the DT cannot be true.

                      Adieu!

        • Well @Chris Russell, at least you plainly state your disposition, anti-theologically.

          You deny the Incarnation, and you deny the Trinity. I expect you also deny Hell?

          You seem to have pretty much put yourself in the camp of the unbelievers.

          :(((

  11. @Bruce Lyon

    I specifically cited the KJV. Moreover, the manuscript evidence in favor of the traditional reading is overwhelming. Not only is it firmly in the Byzantine family, but it has strong attestation other text-types as well.

    A God who transcends space is perfectly capable of being in more than one place simultaneously.

    Consider our personal dialog closed. Since you continue to engage in childish sniping, I’ve got better things to do.

  12. OK – Time for some levity! It feels a little warm in here?

    So there are three baseball umpires discussing how it is that they determine whether a pitch is a ball or a strike.

    The first umpire says with confidence: “I call them as they are.”

    The second umpire, whose been around for a bit longer then the first and says: “I call them as I see them.”

    To which the third umpire contributes: “They ain’t nothin’ until I call them.”

    Which, if you’ve heard it before I apologise. But because the joke touches on matters of epistemology, I thought that you guys might find amusing.

    P.S. My thanks to chris russell and Saclia re Mr Feser. I’m likely to be gone for a bit while I try to catch up with some of the things you’ve pointed me to. Will catch up when I’ve had a chance to think some. (Am a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to heavy hitters such as Feser seems to be.)

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