God and Christ
THE SCRIPTURAL EXPRESSIONS FOR “GOD” signify neither supremacy nor unoriginatedness of being. And, these terms may be used either in a relative sense or in an absolute sense–even when used in a literal sense and in a faithful sense. “God” is a title which speaks of Subjectorhood or Placership.
Ultimately speaking, “there is no other God except One” (1 Cor.8:4). “The Head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). The God and Father of the believer is also “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph.1:17). We believe, then, that the Supreme God is the One Whom the apostle Paul terms “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph.1:3), Whom Christ Himself terms “the only true God” (John 17:3).
While we believe “even if so be that there are many being termed ‘GODS,’ whether in heaven or on earth, even as [there is a sense in which] there are many gods and many lords, nevertheless for us there is one God, the Father, out of Whom all is, and we for Him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom all is” (1 Cor.8:5,6).
It is revealed that, in Christ, “the entire complement of the Deity is dwelling bodily” (Col.2:9). If the entire complement of the Deity, however, dwells in Christ, this does not make Christ God, any more than if the entire complement of a salesman’s samples are contained in a box, the box is the salesman’s samples. Even as the box remains the entity containing the samples, not the samples themselves, thus also, Christ remains the One in Whom the entire complement of the Deity is dwelling bodily, not the Deity Himself. A complement is “that which [or the one who] fills.” Thus Christ, as the One in Whom the entire complement pertaining to the Deity is dwelling bodily, becomes the Image of the invisible God (Col.1:15), the Agency through which God’s purpose to make Himself known is realized and fulfilled.
It is revealed as well that Christ, before taking the form of a slave and coming to be in the likeness of humanity, “being inherently [lit., “inhering”] in the form of God, deems it not pillaging to be equal with God” (Phil.2:6). This fact, however, again, is no proof that He is God but is rather a disproof of any such proposition. One who is equal with another is not the other but himself. Equality between two, regardless of their nature and regardless of the particulars of that equality, is not a proof of identity but of its denial. Equality always denies identity, and must ever be relative, or else it becomes identity. Then, it is no longer equality. If Christ our Lord, in some respect, is equal with God, this proves that Christ is not God and that God is not Christ.
“The Word” of God in John 1:1 may well have in view not only God’s personified Word, Christ, but His written word as well. In any case, “THE WORD was toward God.” Any sense, then, in which it is correct to say that “the Word was God,” must be compatible with the Word’s being, first of all “toward God.” This fact precludes the Word’s being literally and identificationally God and entails Its being God only figuratively, in a representative sense. Hence it is simply incorrect to reason that if in John 1:1 Christ is the Word, it follows that He is therein affirmed to be God, in either a literal or absolute sense.
Since we wish to consider the nature of God’s being according to the claims both of Trinitarianism and Modalism, a word needs to be said concerning the English word “being” itself. One who has “being,” merely speaks of one who exists or is (cp Heb.11:6). Similarly, an “entity” is that which has existence. And, the modern term “person” simply means a being characterized by conscious apprehension, rationality, and a moral sense, whether or not a corporeal being or a human being. Anything that has being, is anything that has existence. But when we speak of a being, we mean a “person,” the expression “person” being understood in accord with the definition stated above. In this sense, then, God is a “Person.” “Personal” qualities are those characteristics which pertain to a person; specifically, conscious apprehension, rationality, and moral sense.
Trinitarians, however, do not use the word “person” in the sense presented above. This has resulted in much confusion. The teaching of Trinitarianism is that “God is one Being, existing eternally in three hypostases: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” 1 More succinctly stated, God exists in three hypostases “Hypostasis” is the formal, theological equivalent for the popular term “person.” In Trinitarian theology, that which is to be understood by the latter expression is that which is defined by the former. The Trinitarian definition of “person” is, “one of the three modes of being in the Godhead; a hypostasis.” 2 The word “hypostasis,” itself, simply means that without which something cannot be, the “essential nature of anything; a subject in which attributes are conceived to inhere, or a . . . mode of existence.” 3 A hypostasis, then, is an “essentiality.”
It needs to be emphasized that the orthodox Trinitarian does not affirm that God is both one and three in the same sense. He rather affirms that within the one God, there are three distinct “Persons,” each one of Whom is uncreated and of the same essence or nature (any distinctions between the three being ones of service or office). By “person,” however, the knowledgeable Trinitarian does not mean a literal person, in the sense of an actual, living being; instead, he uses the word “person” strictly in an accommodated sense as a token for the technical “hypostasis” (i.e., essentiality).
Consequently, then, more clearly stated, God is one Being, existing eternally in three essentialities: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Briefly, according to Trinitarianism, God exists in three essentialities.
The Trinitarian, if he would maintain a viable monotheism and yet avoid adopting opposing views, has no recourse but to affirm that these three essentialities are modes of the same Being, three modes in which God always and actually exists (not to be confounded with Modalism, the opposing doctrine which affirms a plurality of divine modes merely in the sense of divine roles in which God Himself is sometimes presented).
To be consistent, orthodox Trinitarianism must affirm and does affirm, 4 that by the “Trinity” they mean that God has His existence in three distinct modes, each of which being marked by a certain, “personal” quality. These modes are denominated, respectively, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
It is confusing, however, for Trinitarians to claim that these three hypostatic (i.e., essential) modes are “distinct but not separate.” This is because “distinct” and “separate” are synonyms. It is only a question of idiom whether we use one term or the other. What the Trinitarian actually means to say, however, by the slogan “distinct but not separate,” is that while there are distinctions which separate what is to be understood concerning each hypostasis, one from another, nonetheless these distinctions do not constitute any of the three hypostases separate beings.
Even so, if the three hypostases termed the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are in fact three modes or ways in which God subsists (i.e., continues to exist), then it follows that each itself, literally speaking, is not God Himself. Each of these three cannot literally be God, but rather a mode of God’s existence, a way in which God subsists. It would only be, wherever any of these are termed God, or spoken of as God, that we are to understand, by the figure of association, God Himself.
Trinitarians, indeed, as a shibboleth, insist on declaring, “Jesus is God.” Yet however important this affirmation is conceived to be as a righteous slogan, such is not actually an accurate statement of Trinitarianism itself.
An outsider might reasonably suppose that by the affirmation “Jesus is God,” the Trinitarian means to say that Christ is the Deity, the one true God. The Trinitarian’s actual claim, however, is that the Son, Christ Jesus, even as the Father and the Holy Spirit, is a hypostasis or essential mode in which God subsists. That is, Christ Himself is not a Being or Person but is instead an aspect of a Being or Person.
One who believes such a proposition cannot, apart from self-contradiction, also believe that Jesus, in a literal, identificational sense, is God.
Yet they do wish for Christ to have “full Godness,” including, by all means, uncreatedness, together with no immanent subordinancy to the Father, only “economic” subordinancy. They also wish for both the “Father” and the “Holy Spirit” to have full Godness, including uncreatedness, whatever Their respective administrative offices. And they wish for there to be only one actual Being Who is God.
With such a wish list, however, the Trinitarian simply has no alternative but to conceive the Deity as a Being comprised of three hypostatic (i.e., inherently essential) modes, three person-like aspects that have being but do not, individually in themselves, constitute a Being. Simply stated, God consists of three person-like aspects, one of Whom (or rather, of Which) is Christ.
But from this, it follows that none of these three, including Christ, is an actual Being. Therefore, as presented in Trinitarianism, Christ is not a Person in the actual sense of the word but a Thing. Specifically, according to such a system, Christ is not, identificationally, God, but is only God, synecdochically speaking (i.e., by near association), the partial Thing being put for the whole Being or Person. This hardly makes Christ “fully God,” but only (“fully” or otherwise) an aspect of God.
Indeed, the knowledgeable Trinitarian affirms that not only the word “person” but all nouns and pronouns in reference to the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, are not literal (which would make them references to actual Beings), but are “accommodations,” mere anthropomorphisms.
MODALISM: JESUS ALONE IS GOD
In considering the claims of Modalism as to how it is that “Jesus is God,” it is helpful to note that Modalists rarely if ever explicitly distinguish the figurative, representative “is” from the literal, identificational “is.” Accordingly, in certain instances, at least to many, it may not be clear which of these two senses Modalists have in view. Indeed, one often wonders whether it is clear even in Modalists’ own minds which sense they have in view, or even if they make this distinction at all.
No being “is” another being, literally speaking. And, there is one God, Who is a Being. It follows, then, were it to be affirmed that Christ is the Deity (is Yahweh Elohim, is God) representatively and that God alone is a Being, it could only be that by the term, “Christ,” a representative thing is put for the One represented. Hence, in such a case, in saying that Christ is God, one would not be speaking in a literal, identificational sense, identifying a named person with one of his titles, but in a representative sense, identifying something that somehow pertained to a person with the person himself.
This, however, is not the Modalist position; nor is it the Modalist’s claim. Instead, the Modalist’s notion and assertion is that the Being, Christ, is actually God Himself. Accordingly, the Modalist likewise claims that “the Father” is only a character or role in which Jesus is sometimes presented. But from this, since no being is another being, it follows that no such Being as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ actually exists. This is because if Jesus is God the Father, “God the Father” is a character or role, not a being. To say otherwise would be to say that there are two beings each of whom are God, which is to say there are two Gods, which is impossible since there is one God.
Modalists, however, in addition to affirming that Christ is identificationally the Deity, also affirm that Christ is a theophany, a visible manifestation of God; God manifested in a physical form in flesh; God appearing in the form of a man. Thus, Christ is the form of God; He is the form in which God appears.
The Modalist acknowledges that God is spirit and that He Himself does not have a body. The Modalist acknowledges as well that the form in which God appears is a body, and that that form is not only an appearance but a real human body. 5
The claim that Jesus is God manifest in flesh, may be restated as God is manifested in the flesh of Jesus. From this, however, it only follows that God is represented by Jesus, which is to say that Jesus, representatively speaking, is God. But from this, it does not at all follow that Jesus is literally, identificationally, the Deity. The Modalist’s error is that He claims that Jesus is literally God, and offers as proof the proposition that Jesus is figuratively God. If the Modalist grasped his error here and were consistent, he would soon repudiate Modalism.
If the Modalist’s claim were simply that Christ is representatively God and that He is the Image of God, he would be affirming our position, not his own. But if his claim instead is that Christ is identificationally God, he is denying that the God and Father of Christ is a Being; that is, he is denying that the God and Father of Christ, Himself exists.
Such a proposition, however, is impossible, for “there is no other God except One . . . . the Father, out of Whom all is” (1 Cor.8:6). It should further be noted that since Christ is the Image of the invisible God (2 Cor.4:4; Col.1:15), He cannot be God Himself. Whatever its particular nature, whether an image is an entity or a being, it is always a copy, not an original. Since Modalists themselves acknowledge that Christ is a Being, and must affirm with the Scripture that He is an Image, it follows that He is not the One Whom the Image represents, God Himself, but is a Being distinct from God. Christ, then, the Image of God, is not God, but a Being Who represents and reflects God.
Modalists acknowledge that “God” is a term which speaks of a Being, and that “Christ” is a term which speaks of a Being. What they deny, however, is that these two expressions refer to two Beings. Instead, Modalists insist that these two expressions refer to the same Being. That is, Modalists deny that God is one Being and that Christ is Another. Indeed, since Modalists insist both (1) that Christ is God, and (2) that there is only one Being Who is God, they have no recourse but to claim that the expressions “God” and “Christ” refer to the same Being. Accordingly, when declaring that “Christ is God,” Modalists use the word “Christ” as a term of identification for God, even as we use the words “Abraham Lincoln” to identify the man who was President of the United States during the Civil War. Even as it was declared, “Abraham Lincoln is President,” Modalists declare, “Jesus Christ is God.”
From the premises Christ is God and there is one God, it follows that the titles “Father” and “Son” are not titles, respectively, of One Who is the Father and of Another Who is the Son, but of One Who is both the Father and the Son. According to Modalism, this One is Christ Jesus. Hence the basic Modalist claim, “Jesus is God.”
Accordingly, Modalists also claim that all the divine names and titles of Scripture are names and titles of Jesus, Who is God Himself. Whether in reference to various roles in which He serves or modes in which He is manifested, Modalists reason that since every divine name or title is a name or title of God and Jesus is God, every divine name or title is a name or title of Jesus. It is on this basis that Modalists claim that “Jesus is the Father,” and, “Jesus is the Son.” Their thought is that representatively speaking, “the Father” is Jesus, and “the Son” is Jesus. That is, the expression “the Father” is a term which represents Jesus in a certain role, 6 and the expression “the Son,” likewise, represents Jesus in a certain role. As we have already shown, however, in making such claims, Modalists are quite mistaken.
GOD'S IMAGE AND EXPRESSION
God in Himself is invisible and inaudible (1 Tim.1:17; John 5:37; cf Heb.11:26,27). God is spirit (John 4:24), without intrinsic form or shape. God is omnipresent, filling heaven and earth (Jer.23:24), pervading the universe (Psa.139:7,8). In Himself, He is indiscernible and unknowable by ones such as ourselves, limited by sentient faculties. If God would make Himself known, revealing Himself to our sight and hearing, He needs an Image, an Expression, a Mediator between Himself and mankind. That which fills this need–“the complement of the Deity” (Col.2:9)–dwells bodily in the One Who is His Christ, His only-begotten Son, Christ our Lord.
Christ’s glory consists not in being the Deity but in revealing the Deity to us. Even as John so gloriously declares, He “tabernacles among us, and we gaze at His glory, a glory as of an only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
4. “In theological language we would define a person [i.e., a hypostasis] as a mode of subsistence which is marked by intelligence, will, and individual existence” (Loraine Boettner, STUDIES IN THEOLOGY, chapter 3, “The Trinity,” p.109; Presbyterian and Reformed: Philadelphia).
5. “Since God is an invisible Spirit and is omnipresent, He certainly does not have a body as we know it . . . . Jesus is God manifest in flesh . . . .The New Testament records no theophanies of God in human form outside of Jesus Christ. Of course, He was not just God appearing in the form of a man, but He was God clothed with a real human body and nature . . . . God manifested Himself in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ” (David K. Bernard: THE ONENESS OF GOD, Word Aflame Press, Hazelwood, Missouri, 1983, pp.12,27,40,302).
6. “The fact that Jesus is God is as firmly established in Scripture as the fact that God is one . . . [the Scripture] identifies Jesus as the same being as God–the same being as the Father . . . . the three terms . . . Father, Son, and Holy Ghost . . . . indicate three different roles, modes, functions, or offices through which the one God operates and reveals Himself . . . . [the] Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are manifestations of the one God with no distinctions of person being possible” (ibid., pp.55,125,211,252).
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