God is a Person
I have encountered a number of Oneness Pentecostals who not only object to the Trinitarian concept of God as “three persons,” but object to calling God a “person” at all. It is my opinion that it is appropriate to refer to God as a person. In what follows, I will answer the most common objections offered against calling God a person.
Objection: God cannot be a person because God does not have a body.
Response: Having a body is not necessary to personhood. A person is essentially incorporeal in nature. What makes something a person is their possession of mind, the very thing God is/has. Having a body may be commonplace to persons, but it is not necessary. Put another way, persons might have bodies, but persons are not identical to their bodies. That this is true should be obvious from the doctrine of the intermediate state. When we die our person goes on to be with the Lord in heaven, but our body stays in the ground. Such a state of existence is possible only because having a body is not an essential property of persons. And if it is not an essential property of persons, then God’s lack of a body does not count as evidence against His personhood.
“Persons” applies to more than just human beings. A person is concrete, immaterial conscious substance, an individual of rational substance, the composite of characteristics that make up an individual personality, a self, the ego, defining who it is who is of a particular generic substance. Any being who is a conscious, rational, thinking, subject of various experiences is a person. Both angels and God fit this description, and thus they are persons: God is a divine person; angels are angelic persons; and humans are human persons. Humans are embodied persons, while God and angels are disembodied persons (apart from Christ, at least).
As an unembodied mind, God possesses all the capacities of mind, and thus is the paradigmatic example of a person. Indeed, since we are made in His image, we could not be persons if He was not a person.
Objection: The Bible never uses the term “person” of God.
Response: The question is not whether the Bible uses the term per se, but whether the nature of God as described in Scripture can rightly be described as personable given the definition of person: a conscious, rational, thinking, subject of various experiences (a mind).
Furthermore, the Bible does not speak of humans as “persons” either (in the philosophical sense of psychological self-consciousness), and yet no one disputes the legitimacy of applying such a term to human beings. The mere fact that such terminology is not used of God no more means that God is not accurately described as being a person than the absence of such terminology for humans means we are not accurately described as persons. If we do not hesitate to call ourselves persons, neither should we hesitate to call God a person.
Objection: The Bible calls God a Spirit, not a person.
Response: The two terms are not incompatible with one another. Humans are spirits as well as persons. “Spirit” describes the kind of substance our person is; i.e. our person is a spirit, or spiritual in nature. The same is true of God. He is a person who is spiritual in nature.
If God is not a person, what is He? Answering that He is a spirit will not do, because spirits come in two logically possible forms: personal, impersonal. Clearly God is not impersonal, so He must be a personable spirit. If God is personable, why not call Him a person? What other than “person” properly and accurately describes the attribute of being personable?
1. The nature/person distinction might be compared to a cookie cutter and a cookie. A nature is a cookie cutter before it has cut anything out (generic substance), while a person is the cookie that has been cut out of the dough by the cookie cutter (particular self).
2. J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 24.
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