Friday, 6 March 2015

Responding to Sabellianism (e.g. United Pentecostals)

The view briefly stated:1

“The Scriptures teach that the Godhead is comprised of one person (Jesus Christ) – not three, and that all who teach otherwise are false teachers and will be lost in hell” (Billy Lewis, Lipe-Lewis Debate [Winona, MS: Choate, 1984]: ii).

Arguments Considered:

“John 10:30 shows that Jesus is the Father.” Jesus himself explains his oneness with the Father. In John 17:11, 21, 22 he prayed to his Father on behalf of his disciples, asking “that they may be one as we are …. that they may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one is us … that they may be one just as we are one.”2 Jesus never said that he was the same person as his Father but rather expressed his oneness (unity) with the Father; they are one in purpose (Eph. 3:10-11), teaching (2 John 9-11), words and work (John 14:10-11; 5:36), nature (Col. 2:9), love (John 15:10), et al.

“Passages like John 8:19; 14:9; 15:23 show that Jesus is the Father.” Jesus stated in Mark 9:37, “Whoever receives one of these little children in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” If this statement and similar ones teach that Jesus is the same person as his Father, it also teaches that one of these little children is the same person as Jesus. To receive a child is to receive Christ; to receive Christ is to receive the Father – but they are not all one and the same person! If any other man had said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen my father,” we would clearly understand that he is referring to similarities of traits rather than identity. John 1:18, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.” John 14:24, 28 = Jesus is clearly not the Father. John 14:7; 15:23, “my Father also” = plurality, distinction. John 15:24, “both me and my Father.”

“John 14:10, 11 show that Jesus is the Father.” Jesus being “in” the Father and the Father “in” him does not make them one and the same person. John 14:20, “I am in my Father, and you [disciples] in me, and I in you” (cf. 1 John 3:24; 4:12-13). John 17:21, “that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; that they also may be one in us …”

“Colossians 2:9 shows that Jesus is the only Person of the Godhead.” This passage clearly does not limit the entire Godhead to the physical body of Jesus. Otherwise no part of God could be outside of Christ, thus God was no longer omnipresent if limited to a physical body, and the events at Jesus’ baptism would be impossible to explain (Matt. 3:13-17). Eph. 3:19, “that you [Christians] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (cf. 4:13).

“Jesus is prophetically called ‘Mighty God’ and ‘Everlasting Father’ in Isaiah 9:6.” The term “father” is employed here as an anthropomorphic metaphor, signifying a progenitor, authority figure, and caregiver (cf. 2 Kgs. 2:12; Job 29:16; Isa. 22:21; 1 Cor. 4:15), which is descriptive of Jesus’ earthly role in relation to God’s children (Isaiah 8:18; Heb. 2:13; 12:2). As deity Jesus is both mighty and eternal (cf. Micah 5:2), but the later New Testament distinction between God the Father and the Son of God is relevant only to the incarnation (cf. Luke 1:35) and the corresponding messianic scheme (cf. Isaiah 53:4, 6, 10).

“Baptism is valid only if it is administered in the name of Jesus alone as a verbal formula.” There is a difference in baptizing in Jesus’ name and in using the name of Jesus as a verbal baptismal formula. The apostles preached “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:2, 17-18; 9:27, 29; etc.), but this involved more than merely saying his name. They preached by his authority (Matt. 28:18-20). All that we do must be done “in the name of” (i.e. by the authority of) Jesus (Col. 3:17; cf. 2 Thess. 3:6; Acts 4:7, 10). To baptize “in the name of Jesus” is to baptize according to his authority. Jesus has been given “all authority,” and he commanded to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:18-19). When the early disciples baptized in the name of (by the authority of) Jesus, they did just that. If one insists on a specific verbal formula, what exactly is to be said: “Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38), “Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16), “Lord” (Acts 10:48), “Father, Son, Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), or nothing at all (Acts 8:38; 16:15, 33; 18:3)?

Further Observations:

     In John 5:31 Jesus said, “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.” Jesus had the Father as an additional witness (v. 37). In John 8:13 the Pharisees made the following charge against Jesus: “You bear witness of yourself, your witness is not true.” The Lord replied (vv. 16-18): “And yet if I do judge, my judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent me. It is written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness of me.” If the Sabellian (“Oneness”) view is correct, then Jesus was alone in his testimony, and according to the Law (Deut. 17:6; 19:15; John 5:31; 8:17) his testimony was invalid. John 16:32, “I am not alone, because the Father is with me.”
     John 14:23, “We [Christ and the Father] will come to him and make Our home with him.” The pronouns “we” and “our” show plurality. If someone says this has reference to Christ’s divine and human natures, was Jesus therefore saying that both his divine and human natures will indwell those who keep his word? A human being has a human nature whether he is obedient or not.
     If no one has seen God the Father at any time (1 John 4:12), yet Jesus has been seen (John 1:14), how can Jesus be the Father? If the Father knows the day of Christ’s return, but Christ does not know (Mark 13:32), how can Christ be the Father? Since Eph. 4:4-6 shows a distinction between one Spirit, one Lord, and one God/Father, how can they all be one and the same Person? Are the one body, one hope, one faith, and one baptism all the same?
     If the Father and the Holy Spirit are one and the same, does the Holy Spirit make intercession with himself (Rom. 8:26-27)? If Jesus is both the Father and the Holy Spirit, does he divide himself into three parts (John 15:26)? Out of whose hand did Jesus (the Lamb) take the scroll (Rev. 5:1, 7)? If Jesus is the only Person of the Godhead, the following scriptures are confusing and misleading: Gen. 1:26; Matt. 28:19; John 14:23-26; 15:24-26; 16:32; 17:1ff.; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Pet. 1:2; et al.
     What about 2 John 9, “both the Father and the Son”? If this refers to divine and human natures, how is abiding in Christ’s doctrine a requirement for having a human nature? All human beings have a human nature regardless of whether or not they abide in Christ’s doctrine. This verse clearly shows a distinction between Christ and the Father, who both share the nature of God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not the same Person: Matt. 3:16-17; Luke 1:35; John 14:26; 15:26; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 2:18; 4:4-6; 1 Pet. 1:2; Jude 20-21; Rev. 1:4-5.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Although sometimes attributed to Theodotus of Byzantium (ca. 190), the first on record to have promoted the view that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same Person is Sabellius of Libya (ca. 215-220), thus “Sabellianism.” He denied the concept of the triune Godhead and maintained that the designations Father, Son, and Holy Spirit merely denote different capacities or manifestations of the same divine being. The 16th-century Spanish Reformer Michael Servetus reaffirmed this teaching (resulting in his execution by Calvinists in Geneva), as did the 18th-century Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. In more recent times this view has been espoused by the United Pentecostal Church and various other so-called “Oneness Pentecostals” or “Jesus-Only Pentecostals.”
     2 Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version. Emphasis added in italics.

Image credit:

1 comment: