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Jesus Only Churches
By E. Calvin Beisner
ZondervanCopyright © 1998 Zondervan
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Chapter OnePart II: Theology
I. Christology: Is Christ Divided?
A. Basic Statement of the Oneness Position
1. In general, Oneness writers teach that Jesus Christ is God;
2. Jesus is the Father and the Holy Spirit, so in the incarnation "all of God" became incarnate; and
3. Jesus is the Son (not only "of Man" but also "of God") only in his incarnation.
B. Arguments Used by Oneness Writers to Support Their Christology
1. Jesus Christ is God.
a. A variety of Bible verses prove that Jesus is God, including John 20:28; Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:5-6; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1; and 1 John 5:20.
b. To say that Jesus is God does not mean that he is God the Son. Oneness theology reserves the title Son of God only for the incarnate Christ.
2. The "fullness of the Deity" can dwell bodily in Jesus (Col. 2:9) only if he is the Father and the Holy Spirit.
a. For arguments that Jesus is the Father and the Holy Spirit, see II.B.1.e.
b. David K. Bernard, the UPCI's most prolific writer on theology and, particularly, on Oneness versus the Trinity and an associate editor in UPCI's Editorial Division, argues against the Trinity: "If there were several persons in the Godhead, according to Colossians 2:9 they would all be resident in the bodily form of Jesus."
3. For Jesus, sonship (whether of God or of man) is not eternal but a temporary role with beginning and end.
a. "The Sonship began at Bethlehem. The Incarnation was the time when the Sonship began.... Here [in Luke 1:35] it is clearly revealed that the humanity of the Lord Jesus is the Son."
b. "... the verses of Scripture that speak of creation by the Son cannot mean the Son existed substantially at creation as a person apart from the Father. The Old Testament proclaims that one individual Being created us, and He is Jehovah, the Father ... [Malachi 2:10; Isaiah 44:24]."
c. "The Word had pre-existence and the Word was God (the Father), so we can use [the title Word] without reference to humanity. However, the Son always refers to the Incarnation and we cannot use it in the absence of the human element."
d. "The word begotten is a form of the verb beget, which means 'to procreate, to father, to sire.' Thus begotten indicates a definite point in time, the point at which conception takes place.... So, the very words begotten and Son each contradict the word eternal as applied to the Son of God."
e. "Not only did the Sonship have a beginning, but it will ... [also] have an ending" (see 1 Cor. 15:23-28).
(1) "... verse  is impossible to explain if one thinks of a 'God the Son' who is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father.
(2) "But it is easily explained if we realize that 'Son of God' refers to a specific role that God temporarily assumed for the purpose of redemption."
f. "The term 'eternal Son' is never found in the Bible, and thank God it is not!
(1) "If it was, it would teach Jesus as Son forever, praying, learning, being lesser, 'not knowing,' and so on. For all these things are in the Scripture associated with the Son.
(2) "Indeed, the Bible flatly and plainly contradicts the 'eternal Son' idea in John 3:16 and everywhere it mentions the 'begotten Son.' The words eternal and begotten are contradictory and mean completely opposite things."
4. Bible verses that appear to reveal distinctions between Jesus and the Father or the Holy Spirit actually reveal distinctions solely between the divine and human natures of the incarnate Jesus.
a. "When we see a plural (especially a duality) used in reference to Jesus, we must think of the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ. There is a real duality, but it is a distinction between Spirit and flesh, not a distinction of persons in God.... When we see a plural in relation to God, we must view it as a plurality of roles or relationships to mankind, not a plurality of persons."
b. "The death of Jesus is a particularly good example. His divine Spirit did not die, but His human body did. We cannot say that God died, so we cannot say 'God the Son' died. On the other hand, we can say that the Son of God died because Son refers to humanity."
c. "The Bible does indicate that Jesus had a human will as well as the divine will.
(1) "He prayed to the Father, saying, 'Not my will, but thine, be done' (Luke 22:42).
(2) "John 6:38 shows the existence of two wills: He came not to do His own will (human will), but to do the Father's will (the divine will)."
(3) "Most problems in people's minds concerning the Godhead come from this great mystery. They cannot understand the dual nature of Christ and cannot correctly separate his two roles."
d. "When Jesus said, 'I and my Father are one,' He spoke as God. When He said, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' He spoke as a man. He was man in a genuine sense, even to the extent of being able to feel God-forsaken under certain circumstances. The dual nature of the Lord Jesus Christ explains and even harmonizes what on the surface seems to be a contradiction."
C. Refutation of Oneness Arguments on Christology
1. Summary Comparison: Historic, Biblical Christianity
a. Agrees that Jesus Christ is fully God,
b. Denies that he is either God the Father or the Holy Spirit, and
c. Denies that he is the Son of God only in his incarnation, teaching instead that
(1) he has been distinct from the Father and the Spirit as the Son of God for eternity, and
(2) he became Son of Man at his incarnation.
2. Jesus is God Trinitarianism agrees and uses many of the same arguments to support it.
3. "All the fullness of the Deity" can dwell in Christ "in bodily form" (Col. 2:9) without equating Jesus with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
a. For refutation of Oneness arguments that Jesus is the Father and the Holy Spirit, see II.C.1.e.
b. Bernard's argument against Trinitarian Christology that "Jesus is not just a part of God, but all of God is resident in Him" attacks a straw man, since Trinitarianism acknowledges that "in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Col. 2:9).
4. Though his human sonship had a beginning, Jesus' divine sonship is not a mere temporary role with beginning and end. His sonship is eternal and the term Son properly applies to the preincarnate Word.
a. Luke 1:35 applies not to the divine but to the human nature of Christ and therefore says nothing of whether his divine sonship is eternal.
b. Bernard argues that since Jehovah alone created the world, the Son of God cannot have created it. But this begs the question by presupposing that if both the Father and the Son are God yet distinct persons, they must be two Gods.
(1) But the doctrine of the Trinity says that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, though distinct persons, are one and the same God, Jehovah.
(2) Therefore, if the doctrine of the Trinity is true, then even though three distinct persons, Father (1 Cor. 8:6a; Heb. 1:2), Son (Col. 1:15-16), and Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:1-2), created the world, nonetheless one God, Jehovah, created it.
c. Bernard's assertion that the term Son "always refers to the Incarnation and we cannot use it in the absence of the human element" begs the question; merely asserting it does not prove it.
d. Biblical passages that speak of the Son as "begotten" or "only begotten" do not argue against his eternality as the Son.
(1) The Son's having been begotten (from Greek gennao) relates to his conception in the womb of Mary nine months before birth (Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:31, 35[?]; 2:21), his birth from Mary (Matt. 2:1-2, 4; Luke 1:35[?]; 2:11), and his resurrection (Acts 13:33; probably Heb. 1:5 and 5:5). If having been "begotten" at birth and resurrection does not prevent his existence as the Son before both, having been "begotten" in conception does not prevent his existence as the Son before his conception.
(2) The word sometimes translated "only begotten" (Gk. monogens) derives not from only (Gk. monos) and beget or give birth (Gk. gennao), a combination that would yield monógonos or monogénnetos, but from only and kind (Gk. génos), and its meaning is not properly "only begotten" but "unique," "one of a kind," "the only member of a kin or kind," "single."
(3) Bernard claims that "the very words begotten and Son each contradict the word eternal as applied to the Son of God." But this implies that one cannot use the word eternal as applied to the Father either, for without an offspring one is not a father. Yet Bernard elsewhere insists that the title "everlasting [eternal] Father" (Isa. 9:6) designates Christ as God the Father.
e. From 1 Corinthians 15:23-28 Bernard maintains that Christ's sonship will come to an end since the Son will be subject (hypotagesetai, from hypotassoo) to the Father. This argument fails because:
(1) It presupposes that submission proves inferiority of nature, yet: (a) wives are not inferior by nature to their husbands yet are to be subject (hypotassómenoi) to them (Eph. 5:21-22); (b) citizens are not inferior by nature to their governors yet are to be subject (hypotassesthe) to them (Rom. 13:1); and (c) Jesus was not inferior by nature to Joseph and Mary yet was subject (hypotassómenos) to them (Luke 2:51).
(2) It neglects that the passage predicts continuing subjection of the Son to the Father, a continuing distinction between them.
f. Magee's argument that if Jesus were eternally the Son of God he would be eternally "praying, learning, being lesser, 'not knowing,'" fails:
(1) Because it does not distinguish between the attributes of Jesus' human (dependence, humiliation, limitation) and divine (self-existence, glory, infinity) natures; and
(2) Because it misunderstands the biblical use of beget related to the Son.
5. Oneness theology wrongly describes all distinctions between Father (or Holy Spirit) and Son as between Jesus' divine and human natures.
a. Bernard's interpretive principles about plurals in reference to Jesus and God are mistaken.
(1) They impose his prior theological commitment on Scripture rather than allowing Scripture to determine his theology.
(2) When he insists that the duality seen in cases like Jesus' prayers (e.g., John 17:10-11, 25-26) "is a distinction between Spirit and flesh," that is, between the divine and human natures of Christ, "not a distinction of persons in God," he not only identifies Jesus, in his divine nature, with the Father, but also either
(a) Implies that Jesus was not fully man by making his divine Spirit substitute for the human spirit as the animating principle in the body, thus depriving the human side of Christ of that element of humanity; or else
(b) Implies that Jesus was two persons by enabling each to talk to the other using first person (I, me, my, mine) and second person (you, your) pronouns.
(c) And both of these mutually exclusive errors imply a sub-biblical view of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, for either (i) the sacrifice was not made by a proper representative of man, or else (ii) the sacrifice was made only by a man and therefore was not sufficient to pay the infinite debt of sin.
b. By denying that Christ died for men's sins as God (not merely as man), Oneness theology implies an atonement and redemption inadequate for man's salvation, for:
(1) No other sacrifice would be adequate to pay the infinite debt for man's sin, for no other sacrifice would have been of infinite value. It is impossible for a mere human to make full atonement and ransom for sin; God must do it (Ps. 49:7-9, 15).
(2) Therefore it was essential that the one who died as a ransom and satisfaction for man's sin should be both human (to represent human beings properly; 1 Tim. 2:5; Rom. 5:12-19) and God.
(3) Any other redeemer would put people in debt and service to someone other than God, for we belong to whoever redeems us (1 Cor. 6:19-20; see also 7:22-23; Rev. 5:9).
c. Although historic orthodox teaching affirms that Christ had both a divine and a human will, Oneness Christology's understanding of two wills in Christ divides Christ into two persons.
(1) Bernard rightly notes that "Jesus had a human will as well as the divine will," but when he explains Jesus' prayer, "not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42), as from Jesus' human to his divine nature, he effectively splits Jesus into two persons.
(2) To have a human will is not the same as being a person.
(a) Before the Word became incarnate (became a person), he was already one person, and that person was divine.
(b) After he became incarnate, he was still one person, and since he cannot change (Mal. 3:6; see also Heb. 13:8), he must have remained the same person he was before the incarnation.
(c) Therefore the person of the incarnate Word must have been divine, not human.
Excerpted from Jesus Only Churches by E. Calvin Beisner Copyright © 1998 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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