Jesus' Prayers: It Doesn't Take Two Persons to Tango
According to Oneness theology God in His incarnate mode relates to God in His non-incarnate mode as if He was another person, even though it is the same person in both modes of existence. This explanation seems problematic in light of the well-established maxim that genuine communication requires the presence of at least two persons. Compare this with the Trinitarian explanation that the Father and Son are two distinct persons, and relate to each other as such. It does not violate the maxim and makes good sense of Christ's prayers. Given what we know about communication, then, doesn't the Trinitarian explanation surpass the Oneness view in explanatory power?
I admit that on first blush Trinitarian theology seems to have an explanatory advantage over Oneness theology when it comes to Christ's prayers. The common-sense understanding of communication is that it requires at least two persons. The Trinitarian dogma supplies us with a total of three persons who are able to communicate with one another. For Trinitarians, then, finding communication between Jesus and the Father is easily explained as communication between the second and first person of the Godhead.
Oneness adherents do not have it so easy. According to Oneness theology God is uni-personal, and thus we are forced to answer a question Trinitarians do not face: Who was Jesus talking to if He is the uni-personal God Himself incarnate? We only have a couple of options. The option most Oneness believers have opted for is the "nature praying" theory in which Christ's human nature communicates to His divine nature. What we end up with are two persons within Christ: one divine, one human. This option will not work because it confuses a human nature for a human person. Jesus has a human nature that is personalized by the divine person; He does not possess a distinct human ego. Furthermore, it destroys the basis for Christ's mediatory work on the cross, as well as the grounding for claiming Jesus is God. Due to these foundational problems this option must be rejected. See The Dual Nature of Christ and Avoiding the Achilles Heels of Trinitarianism, Modalistic Monarchianism, and Nestorianism: The Acknowledgement and Proper Placement of the Distinction Between Father and Son for further reading.
The other option is the one I propose: When God became man He took up a human existence, being conscious of Himself exclusively as man in that mode of existence, all the while continuing to be conscious of Himself as God transcendent to the incarnation in His continued divine mode of existence. Understanding this existential distinction in the one person of God is paramount to understanding the communication between the Father and Son.
In God's incarnational condescension He acquired a new way of existing and a new mode of consciousness that was thoroughly human, all the while continuing to exist and be conscious of Himself as He always had prior to His incarnational act. Subsequent to the incarnation, then, God exists in two distinct modes, and is conscious of Himself in two distinct ways: as God, as man. In His continued mode of existence transcendent to the incarnation He functions exclusively as God; in His incarnate mode of existence He functions exclusively as man. See the illustration below:
The reality of the incarnation and subsequent existential distinction is so deep and profound that Jesus must relate to God as any other human being would. There exists a phenomenological distinction between Father and Son-from the Son's genuinely human point of view-due to His acquisition of a human mind/consciousness in the incarnation. Subsequent to the incarnation the Son relates to the Father as Other even though, in fact, the Son and the Father are ultimately the same divine person (but existing in two distinct modes of existence). Due to Christ's genuine human point of view He can pray to the Father as if the Father was a separate person, and love the Father as if loving a separate person (as any human being would) even though the Son is the same person as the Father.
The question still remains as to whether the Oneness understanding of Christ's prayers violates the maxim that genuine communication requires at least two persons. I would argue that it does not if the underlying principle of the maxim is clarified.
Communication requires the presence of at least two minds, not necessarily two persons. The rule is that there is one mind per person, and thus it follows that genuine communication requires two persons. If, however, one person could possess two distinct minds, communication would be possible within that one person between his two minds. According to Oneness theology this is exactly the case with the Father and Son. With the incarnation the one person of God came to possess two functioning minds-not two divine minds, but one human and one divine. In His non-incarnate mode of existence He functions according to His divine mind/consciousness, and in His human mode of existence He functions according to His human mind/consciousness. Psychologically speaking we might say the Father and Son function as two persons because of the real psychological distinction between God's divine and human modes of consciousness, even though one person gives both minds their ontological grounding.
I readily admit that on the surface of things the communication between Father and Son seems to indicate the presence of two metaphysically distinct persons, but that perception-if true-has serious consequences for Christ's full deity that not even Trinitarians are willing to accept. Only someone inferior to God has need of prayer. If Jesus' communication with the Father was rooted in His divine person Trinitarians would be forced to conclude that God the Son was inferior to God the Father. This conclusion contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture that Jesus is fully God, and thus must be rejected. If the communication between Father and Son cannot be explained in terms of two divine minds, then the Trinitarian view of God as consisting of three distinct persons is of no help in explaining Christ's prayers. And if employing distinct divine persons does not provide an adequate explanation for Christ's prayers, then surely Christ's prayers cannot be considered the best evidence for the existence of more than one person in the Godhead!
If the communication between Father and Son cannot be explained in terms of two divine minds, then how can it be explained? Interestingly, Trinitarian and Oneness theologians are forced to employ the same explanation for Christ's prayers: the existence of a genuine human consciousness. Christ's prayers issued forth, not from His divine person, but from His human mind/consciousness. The communication between Father and Son did not take place between two divine minds/consciousnesses, but between one divine mind/consciousness and one human mind/consciousness. If only one divine mind is necessary to explain the communication between Father and Son, then the Oneness explanation of Christ's prayers is wholly adequate to explain the Biblical data as well as the maxim of communication.
A Oneness View of Jesus' Prayers
Avoiding the Achilles Heels of Trinitarianism, Modalistic Monarchianism, and Nestorianism: The Acknowledgement and Proper Placement of the Distinction Between Father and Son
If Jesus Was the Father, Why Would He Pray to the Father?
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