We Cannot Avoid "Nature"
It is common for Trinitarians to claim that the Oneness view the Father-Son distinction is merely a distinction between Jesus' two natures: His divine nature is the Father, while His human nature is the Son. While I confess that some Oneness believers would unwittingly make such a confession, by no means is this the view of the Oneness movement. Many Oneness theologians would deny such a confession, calling it an error. While there are various ways in which Oneness theologians explain the Father-Son distinction, in general it is agreed that the Father-Son distinction is a distinction between God's two modes of existence. The one divine person has come to exist in two ways (not in two persons) as a result of the incarnation. He continued to exist and function as God, but also began to exist and function as man...simultaneously. What changed is the manner in which the one divine person exists, not the one person Himself. The incarnation did not create another person, it simply changed the one divine person's manner of existence. What we distinguish, then, is the manner in which the one person has come to exist, and the functions of that one person in each manner of existence, not the person Himself.
While the Oneness distinction between the Father and Son is clearly not a distinction between Jesus' two natures, some persist in their assertion that it is because Oneness theology cannot explain the Father-Son distinction without bringing natures into the discussion. This short article is an attempt to answer this objection. I will demonstrate why it is impossible to avoid the issue of "nature" when discussing the Father-Son distinction, and how it is that such talk of natures does not involve bifurcating Jesus.
Just because Oneness theology does not see the Father-Son distinction as a distinction between Christ's two natures does not mean that it precludes us from seeing the Father-Son distinction as a result of God's acquisition of a human nature. It goes without saying that the acquisition of genuine human nature affected God's manner of existence. What made the one uni-personal God the "Son" in Oneness theology is the fact that He united human nature to His divine person, personally existing as man. What we distinguish, then, is not Christ's divine nature from His human nature, but rather God's normal manner of existence as God from His human manner of existence as man (made possible only because of the acquisition of the human nature in the incarnation). The distinction is not one of natures, but rather personal manner of existence--and that manner of existence is only different because of the acquisition of the human nature. What we are pointing out, then, is the cause of the distinction, not the location of the distinction.
It is impossible to speak of the distinction between the Father and Son without speaking of natures. I would ask Trinitarians to speak of God the Son's human manner of existence without speaking of natures. It is impossible, because the incarnation has everything to do with God's assumption of a human nature. The only difference is that in the eyes of Trinitarians the "Son" refers to a distinct and eternally divine person, and thus is not rooted exclusively in the incarnation. To speak of "the Son," then, does not require mention of human nature. Mention of the human nature is only required when speaking of the Son's incarnational mode of existence. Trinitarians do not need the acquisition of a human nature to distinguish the Son from the Father because the Father-Son distinction is not rooted in the incarnation (temporal), but is eternal, between two divine persons. God the Son (the divine person) became the Son of God (man) by uniting human nature to His divine person. Since Oneness believers understand "the Son" to refer specifically to the one uni-personal God's human manner of existence that began at the incarnation (due to His acquisition of a human nature, and not an eternally distinct divine person in the Godhead) when we speak of "Son" it automatically makes reference to the human nature (although not excluding the divine) because according to the Oneness view God would never be Son apart from His union with human nature. The Father-Son relationship did not start until God united human nature to Himself, thereby becoming the Son. In the same way that Trinitarians cannot talk about God the Son's human existence apart from His acquisition of a human nature, Oneness Pentecostals cannot talk about a Son at all apart from YHWH's acquisition of a human nature. In Oneness theology it is God's human nature that makes Him the Son. Without the human nature there would be no Son, because there would be no incarnation, and God would still just be God, not man.
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