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A Serious Study on a Serious Subject
Discussing the Modalistic "Jesus Only" Position

  • Is Jesus God?
  • Is Jesus the Son of God?
  • Is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Distinguished from God the Father?
  • In what sense is the Lord Jesus "One" with God the Father and in what sense is He distinguished from Him?

From the time when Christ walked on the earth until this present hour, men have held different views on the person, nature and identity of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the district of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." The Lord then asked, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:13-16). Throughout the Gospels and the remainder of the New Testament writings, many additional names, designations, and titles are applied to Jesus and all of them help to identify who this unique personality really was—and is.

The careful student of the Scriptures will never be at a loss in finding new aspects of the Lord Jesus Christ to occupy his study and fill his opportunities to teach. One of the interesting yet disconcerting facts that we discover is that one passage of Scripture may present a truth about Christ and another passage may present an additional truth that appears, on the surface, to be in conflict with the first one. Since we know that all of Scripture is inspired of God (literally, God-breathed) and is profitable to us (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we know that whatever it affirms about the Lord Jesus is true and accurate. All of Scripture is inwardly harmonious if we only take the time to carefully study what it reveals about every subject. We know, therefore, that whatever the Bible reveals about the Lord Jesus is true and we must believe this truth. In fact, we must believe in the Lord Jesus and His identity if we would be saved now and receive eternal life (cf. John 20:28-31; 1 John 2:22-24; 4:1-3, 15; 5:1, 11-13).

We may observe that Jesus is called "God" (theos) several times in the New Testament (cf. John 1:1; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1; Isaiah 9:6). Thus, John declares, "The Word was God" (John 1:1), and Thomas exclaimed, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28). Several other times Jesus may be called God, depending on the manuscripts accepted as accurate and depending on the way a passage is translated and understood (cf. John 1:18; Acts 20:28; Romans 9:5; 1 Tim. 3:16; 1 John 5:20). Additional passages may serve to support a view that Jesus is indeed God, or that God dwells in Him, or that He is equal with God (cf. Matt. 1:23; John 5:18; 8:58; 10:30-33; 14:8-11; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:1-3). Still other passages add to our view of Christ’s divine nature (cf. John 1:4; 2 Cor. 4:4-6; Col. 1:15-19; 2 Thess. 2:16-17; Rev. 22:13). Scriptural passages such as these help us to realize that Jesus is, in fact, "God" in His nature and equal in some way with God the Father.

It is clear, therefore, that Christ is the revelation of God the Father (John 1:18), the image of God (Col. 1:15), the radiance of God (Heb. 1:3), the exact representation of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3), and existed in the form of God (Phil. 2:6). However, one contemporary theological position goes beyond this by affirming that Jesus actually is God the Father! Generally referred to as the "oneness" position (or Jesus Only view), this theological view claims that God merely manifested Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit but is not even limited to these "roles, titles, or manifestations" since He was manifested in other ways in the Old Testament period. Bernard says, "When we use the name of Jesus, we encompass everything that God is. Jesus is Father, Son, and Spirit. . . . We can use the name Jesus for God Himself, for it denotes the totality of God’s character, attributes, and self-revelation" (The Oneness of God, pp. 142-143).

The same writer continues: "The Bible speaks of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as different manifestations, roles, modes, titles, attributes, relationships to man, or functions of the one God, but it does not refer to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as three persons, personalities, wills, minds, or Gods" (Ibid., p. 144). The "Son" refers to the humanity that was born of Mary, the "Father" refers to the deity who dwelt in the humanity, and the Spirit" is "God in activity," or "God’s invisible work among men and of His ability to anoint, baptize, fill, and indwell human lives" (Ibid., p. 128). This view claims that the Father, Son, and Spirit are not three who may communicate one with another and interact one with another since they are not really "they" but only "He"—only one and not three. Adherents to this view are sometimes called "Jesus only" proponents since these devoted people say that the singular "name" of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in Matthew 28:19 is the name "Jesus."

In the second and third centuries, variations of this view arose in the early church, led by such men as Praxeas, Noetus, Epigonus, Cleomenes, and Sabellius. Generally these early theological views are known as modalistic monarchianism, patripassianism, Sabellianism, or simply "modalism." As mentioned before, today they are commonly known as the "Jesus only" view, the "oneness" view, or simply modalism.

This "oneness" view says that the Lord Jesus Christ not only is intimately related to God the Father (cf. Matt. 11:27), but He is to be identified as God the Father. In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ is not simply the Son of God or the Word of God or the image of God, but He is God the Father Himself. This God-Man is thought to be composed of the "Son" (the human Christ or man) and the "Father" (the divine Christ or God). We can acknowledge that many passages do show the deity of the Lord Jesus and the fact that the Father and the Son are one (John 10:30) and united in the closest possible terms (cf. 2 Cor. 1:3). But the question we must ask: Is there a distinction between God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ? Is there a distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? These are questions that we want to address in this present study. Since the Word of God itself is powerful and convicting (Heb. 4:12) and we must search it for answers (Acts 17:11), we shall allow the Scriptures themselves to supply our answers to the above questions.

God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are Distinguished

The Scriptures quite clearly show that God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are not one person. They are plainly distinguished in dozens or even hundreds of passages.

  • "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:3).
  • " Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:3).
  • " Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (1 Timothy 1:2).
  • " There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).
  • " Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father" (2 John 3).
  • " Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you" (John 15:9).
  • " I [Jesus] am the true vine, and My Father is the vine-dresser" (John 15:1).

God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are Distinguished

Not only are there many passages which show a distinction between God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ but there are additional verses which distinguish the Father and the Son from the Holy Spirit.

  • "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. . . . and the same Lord. . . . but the same God" (1 Cor. 12:4-6).
  • " The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all" (2 Cor. 13:14).
  • " Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19).
  • " There is . . . one Spirit, . . . one Lord, . . . one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph. 4:4-6).
    " According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood" (1 Peter 1:2).
  • " The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).
  • " Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me" (Romans 15:30).
  • " For through Him [Christ] we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father" (Eph. 2:18).
  • " But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My [Christ’s] name" (John 14:26a).
  • " Praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life" (Jude 20b-21).
  • " The Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me" (John 15:26b).
  • " Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He [Christ] has poured forth this which you both see and hear" (Acts 2:33).
  • " Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge" (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
  • " After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My [the Father’s] beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’" (Matt. 3:16-17; cf. Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:33-34).

Terms that Reveal a Plurality, including the Father and Christ

It is helpful to read Scriptural verses carefully, examining each word in the sentences. As we do this, we may observe that a plurality of some kind is indicated when God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are mentioned. This may be seen in the plural verbs employed, the prepositions used, the plural pronouns applied to them, and in other ways. A number of examples follow.

  • "The Word was with God" (John 1:1).
  • " If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with Him" (John 14:23).
  • " Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9).
  • " Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me" (John 8:17-18).
  • " I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper [the Holy Spirit], that He may be with you forever" (John 14:16).
  • " There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true" (John 5:32).
  • " I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me" (John 8:16).
  • " He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left me alone"(John 8:29).
  • " I am not alone, because the Father is with Me" (John 16:32).
  • " He who hates Me hates My Father also" (John 15:23).
  • " Now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well" (John 15:24).
  • " Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:23).
  • " I and the Father are one" (John 10:30).
  • " Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me [Jesus], that they may be one even as We are" (John 17:11b).
  • " . . . even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, . . . that they may be one, just as We are one" (John 17:21-22).
  • " The Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Rev. 21:22b).

The Sender and the One Sent Reveal Two Rather than One

Numerous places in the Gospel of John, Jesus says that He was sent by God the Father. In John 20:21, He says to His apostles (sent ones): "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." Just as the apostle is sent by Christ and is differentiated from Christ, the Sender, so Christ is sent by the Father and is differentiated from the Father, the Sender. Just as the apostle and Christ are distinguished so Christ and the Father are distinguished. Only several among many passages follow.

  • "I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38).
  • " I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me" (John 8:42).
  • " This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3).

There was a Distinction Before Christ Came into the World

The "Oneness" position denies the pre-earthly or pre-fleshly separate conscious existence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Several passages show the error of this view.

  • "I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father" (John 16:28).
  • " When He comes into the world, He says, ‘. . . A body You have prepared for Me. . . . Then I said, "I have come . . . to do Your will, O God"’" (Heb. 10:5,7).
  • " Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:5).
  • " . . . so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24b).
  • " Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:6-7).
  • " In the beginning was the word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God" (John 1:1).

The Lord Jesus Christ is Sometimes Distinguished from the Father who is Identified as the One and Only God

While some passages identify the Lord Jesus Christ as "God" (theos), other passages distinguish Him from the "only God" or the "one God." This again shows that Jesus is not to be identified as God the Father.

  • "There is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him" (1 Cor. 8:6).
  • " There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5).
  • " This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3).
  • " To the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Jude 25a).
  • " One Lord [Christ], . . . one God and Father" (Eph. 4:5-6).
    " To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ (Romans 16:27a).

Jesus is Mediator, Advocate and Intercessor for Us with God the Father

Paul says, "Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one" (Gal. 3:20). A mediator requires two parties. And an ideal mediator has something in common with both parties. Christ is the mediator between God (with whom He shares deity) and man (with whom He shares humanity). Christ is also an advocate for us with the Father; this necessarily indicates His separate existence from both us and the Father, yet His relationship with both. Christ is an intercessor who serves as a "go-between"—one who stands between us as needy people and the Lord God.

  • "There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5).
  • " Christ Jesus . . . also intercedes for us" (Romans 8:34).
  • " He [Christ] is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).
  • " If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1b).

The Father is Never Called "Jesus," however Christ the Lord, the Son of God, is Specifically Called "Jesus"

Those who espouse the "Jesus Only" position contend that the name of the Father, the name of the Son, and the name of the Holy Spirit is "Jesus"! However, in Scripture, only the Lord Jesus Christ is called by this name. "She will bear a son; and you shall call His name Jesus" (Matt. 1:21a). "You shall name Him Jesus" (Luke 1:31). "His name was then called Jesus" (Luke 2:21). The Father, whose name in the Old Covenant Scriptures was "Yahweh," is not once called "Jesus."

  • "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:3).
  • " . . . that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3).
  • " There is but one God, the Father . . . and one Lord, Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 8:6).
  • " Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1:3a).
  • " Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father" (2 Thess. 2:16a).
  • " Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord" (1 Thess. 3:11).
  • " . . . before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus" (1 Thess. 3:13b).
  • " Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3b).

The Lord Jesus Christ is Sometimes Presented as One who has a God and Father (who obviously is not identified as Jesus Christ).

If the Lord Jesus Christ, in His post-resurrection life, is said to have a God and Father Himself, obviously He is not His own God and Father.

  • "The God and Father of the Lord Jesus" (2 Cor. 11:31).
  • " I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God" (John 20:17).
  • " Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You" (Heb. 1:9b).
  • " Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:3; cf. 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3).
  • " He [Jesus Christ] has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father" (Rev. 1:6a).
  • " I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God" (Rev. 3:2; cf. v. 12).

The Lord Jesus is Sometimes Viewed as Subordinate or Submissive to God the Father (before His birth, during His earthly life, and subsequent to His resurrection)

Obviously, language would be deceiving if all that the following passages mean is that Jesus was and is subordinate to Himself and submissive to Himself. Instead, his submissiveness was to God the Father who was and is Christ’s "Head."

  • "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16a).
  • " I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me" (John 8:42).
  • " The Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing" (John 5:19).
  • " I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38).
  • " I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me" (John 8:28).
  • " I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10b).
  • " The Father is greater than I" (John 14:28).
  • " Christ belongs to God" (1 Cor. 3:23b).
  • " God is the head of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:3b).
  • " When He [God] says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is evident that He [God] is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him [Christ]. When all things are subjected to Him [Christ], then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One [God] who subjected all things to Him [Christ], so that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:27b-28).

In addition to the above passages, hundreds of other passages could be examined which establish the fact that, although He is indeed God, Jesus Christ is to be distinguished from God the Father (and the Holy Spirit). How vital are these truths that we have discovered? They are very important! When Thomas encountered the risen Christ, he exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus replied, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed" (John 20:28-29). Jesus is both Lord and God. However, the apostle John proceeds to give the reason for writing his Gospel: "These [miraculous signs] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31). Not only must we, like Thomas, believe that Jesus is divine (Lord and God); we also must believe that Jesus is the Christ (Anointed One), "the Son of God." We must not deny Jesus’ deity. Neither must we deny that Jesus is differentiated from God, our Father and His Father!

Scripture indicates how essential it is that we neither deny God the Father nor the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father. Remember that John the apostle plainly states: "This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:22b-23; cf. 4:15; 2 John 9). We must not only confess the unity or oneness of the Father and the Son (John 10:30); we must also believe that there is a clear distinction between them! Unless we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God the Father, we cannot receive eternal life (John 20:31; 1 John 5:11-13).

Richard Hollerman