Oneness vs. Trinity--A Theory Pertaining to the Reason
for the Different Theologies

Jason Dulle

The Oneness vs. Trinity issue is not simply an issue of what the Scripture teaches. Oneness believers and Trinitarians have the same Scriptures available to them. If it was simply a matter of an awareness of certain Bible verses, then everyone who has read the Bible in its entirety should have the same understanding of the nature of God. However, it is not the words of Scripture that distinguish the two theological camps, but rather the interpretation, explanation, and emphases of the same. This is why the views of each theological camp cannot be proven or disproved merely by Scripture citing. Our interpretation of Scripture differs, being colored by the preunderstandings we bring to it, and the emphases we place on certain teachings/portions of Scripture.

Both Oneness and Trinitarian theologians agree that the Bible teaches the existence of only one God; both agree that the NT makes a distinction between the Father, Son, and Spirit; both views maintain that the Scripture speaks of Father, Son, and Spirit as God. The question that both Oneness and Trinitarian theologies seek to answer, then, is how to understand God as being one, and yet account for the Scriptural distinctions. Interestingly, they tend to do so from different starting points, and thus arrive at two different conclusions. Oneness theology starts with the clear teaching of the OT that God is one, and then tries to understand the NT distinctions in its light. Trinitarians start with the NT distinctions, and then try to understand that diversity in light of OT monotheism. The result? Oneness theologians understand the distinctions as being rooted in the incarnation, while Trinitarians understand the distinctions as being rooted in the being of God.

The question before us, then, is what model (or starting point) does the most justice to the Biblical data. While every theological position has its own difficulties, which theological position more adequately preserves Biblical monotheism, while at the same time accounting for and explaining the distinctions we find in the NT: Trinitarianism or Oneness theology?

Specifically, is the Holy Spirit an aspect of God's one person just like our spirit is an aspect of our one person (I Cor 2:11), or is the Holy Spirit a reference to a distinct person within God? If the latter, why did the OT not make this explicit and why is the NT data so lacking for such a conclusion?

While Oneness theology recognizes a distinction between the Father and Son, is such a distinction due to God's incarnation in human existence (a distinction between God's existence beyond the incarnation and God's existence as man in the incarnation), or is such a distinction between distinct, eternal persons? If it is between eternal persons, why weren't these persons revealed until the incarnation?

We must also ask why, if God is eternally Father, is He never called "God the Father" until the NT? It seems strange that God is rarely referred to as Father, and never referred to as Son until God fathered a son (while "Father" appears approximately 12 times in the OT in reference to God, it is used in ways quite different than in the NT). Father and Son are relational terms used in the context of begetting a child. Did God beget a child? Yes, in the incarnation. Would this account for the lack of such a term in the OT, and the nearly exclusive use of such a term for God in the NT? Yes.

Seeing that the incarnation brought about a distinction between God's human mode of existence and that same God's continued existence transcendent to the incarnation as God, it is better to understand Father and Son to refer to God's dual mode of existence rather than to eternal relationships within the Godhead. After all, it is not until the NT that we find any distinctions in reference to God, and the emergence of Father-Son terminology. Understanding the Father-Son distinction incarnationally might also explain the apparent lack of evidence for a distinct person of the Spirit. The OT speaks of the Spirit often, but it was always understood to be a reference to YHWH, referring to His nature as Spirit and activity in creation. The NT often makes a distinction between the Father and Son, but rarely distinguishes the Father, Son, and Spirit.

What model best explains the Biblical insistence on monotheism, the lack of any distinction in God's person in the OT, the emergence of Father-Son terminology only after the incarnation, and the fact that most often only the Father and Son are spoken of using distinction-terminology, to the exclusion of the Spirit? I argue that Oneness theology best accounts for such phenomena, insisting that God is an absolute monad, the Spirit being His very nature and aspect of His person, and the Son being His human mode of existence. Oneness theology best accounts for the rise of the NT distinctions, and the emergence of the appellations "Father" and "Son," because it was not until the NT that God fathered a son, and it was not until the hypostatic union when God incorporated human nature into His person that there arose such a need to make any distinctions in reference to God.

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