Trinitarianism or Unitarianism: A Paper, Part 3: The Oneness Conception of God

Since it is the issue monotheism is the point of departure for those who take a Oneness position, it is necessary to lay out a foundation for their conception of God. There is no division between the attributes of God (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence) with what Trinitarians appeal to, so the question necessarily falls to an ontological concept of God, that God is truly one.

“Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one,” is a statement of monotheism(Deuteronomy 6:4). “There is one God. There is only one God. This doctrine is central to the Bible message, for both the Old Testament and the New Testament teach it plainly and emphatically (Bernard, 13).” This is foundational, according to Bernard, to affirm, and he sets out to, “[…] explain the biblical doctrine of the oneness of God (13).” Bernard asserts that Trinitarianism, “[…] weakens the strict monotheism taught by the Bible (15).” Other oneness proponents take a similar position by arguing, “Christianity was birthed in the context of Jewish monotheism. Firmly etched into the minds of Christ’s earliest disciples was the belief that God is the singular, transcendent creator of the universe(Dulle).” The argument of those who take a oneness position seem to be a conflation of a monotheistic belief, that there is one God, with a unitarian concept of God, that God is a singular person. Is this true? We need to take a brief look at the understanding of the incarnation.

“The statement that Jesus is God necessarily implies that God took on human flesh,” Bernard argues, taking on a quotation of from the first epistle of Timothy, and arguing, “God was manifest…in the flesh; God was justified…in the Spirit; God was seen of angels; and God was received up into glory. How and when did all of this happen? In Jesus Christ (Bernard, 58)?” (What is interesting is that the argument is based on a Byzantine reading, without any recognition or interaction with the fact that there is a textual variant at the location and whether or not this would effect his interpretation and application of the passage (Holmes).) Bernard continues, “Jesus is not another God or a part of God, but He is the God of the Old Testament robed in flesh (Bernard, 59).” How this occurs, he continues in a discussion of John 1:1, saying, “The Word was not a separate person or a separate god any more than a man’s word is separate from him. Rather the Word was the thought, plan, or mind of God. The Word was with God in the beginning and actually was God Himself…The Incarnation existed in the mind of God before the world began (60).” He defends this assertion by arguing, based upon a paraphrase from Otto Heick’s A History of Christian Thought,that the Logos (what is translated as Word in English) was conceived of as a secondary, lesser deity, and that early heretical positions drew from this, and says, “John deliberately used their own terminology to refute these doctrines and to declare the truth. The Word was not inferior to God; it was God…The word did not emanate from God over a period of time; it was with God in the beginning…Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was none other than the Word, or God, revealed in flesh (emphasis author) (61).” That, Bernard seems to argue, which made Jesus God was not something that was possessed in his own being, but something that was not intrinsic to himself. Much of this is seen in how Bernard presents the distinction between Jesus and the Father.

Bernard asserts, “[…]Jesus Himself taught that he was the Father (67).” He cites two passages as evidence, John 8:19 and John 8:24 from the King James Version. Based on that he argues, “[…] Jesus tried to convince them that He was the Father and the I AM… (in regards to Exodus 3:14) (67, parenthesis mine).” But it is not enough for Bernard to establish that Jesus is the Father, but to establish his identity as the God of the Old Testament, saying, “The verses of Scripture demonstrating that Jesus is the Father do not exhaust our proof that Jesus is the one God…Scripture [specifically proves] that Jesus is Jehovah…of the Old Testament (70).” He cites John 1:14, asserting, “[…] Jesus had the glory of the Father…(71)” At the end of the chapter he produces a chart of verses that ties the names ascribed to Jehovah to Jesus, concluding that while the list is not exhaustive that it is, “[…]more than adequate to prove that Jesus is Jehovah…the one God of the Old Testament (73-5).” Bernard’s whole case seems to be built around the firm assertion that there is only one God, and this God has made himself known in the man Jesus, by becoming that man. So how does he, as a proponent of Oneness theology, interact with Trinitarians?Bernard’s fundamental assertion in regard to responding to Trinitarianism is that it is one rife with contradiction. “[The] most obvious internal contradiction,” he states, “is how there can be three persons of God in any meaningful sense and yet there be only one God (291).” Bernard employs a list to demonstrate what he sees as contradictions, concluding, “We believe that Trinitarianism is not a biblical doctrine… [that] the Scriptures do not teach a trinity of persons…[it] is not logical…[no one] can understand or explain it rationally…(290-4)” He comes to this conclusion having

stated, “Speaking of God as a person does not do justice to Him…[because the] wordperson connotes a human being with a human personality…we limit our conception of God if we describe him as a person…[which is why] this book [The Oneness of God] has never said that there is one in the Godhead or that God is one person…[rather] we have said that Jesus Christ is one person, because Jesus was God manifested in flesh as a human person (287).” He bases this on the assertion that Tertullian was essentially the source of the language used to describe the trinity, particularly as the source of the word person (Latin persona) saying that there was a question about what Tertullian meant exactly by the term, since in theological terms, it seems to come from Roman law, but almost as a dismissal of that Bernard says, “In drama it meant a mask worn by an actor or, by extension, a role played by an actor. Neither usage necessarily indicates the modern meaning of person as a self-conscious being (268).” Largely, Bernard seems to dismiss or not interact with Trinitarians directly. But how do Trinitarians conceive of God and explain their position?

Bibliography

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