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Harlot of Babylon According to Irvin Baxter; Trinity and Oneness, Part 2
by Karl Kemp
2/06/2016 / Bible Studies
We continue the discussion dealing with Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost and baptizing in the name of Jesus here in Part 2.
I should mention (since we want the balanced truth) that David K. Bernard, who has written extensively to argue for the oneness view of God, is able to show from the writings of Tertullian and Hippolytus that they mentioned that the oneness/modalistic viewpoint was being accepted by many Christians in their day. (See Tertullian's "Against Praxeas" in chapter 3 in Vol. 3 of "The Ante-Nicene Fathers," for example. He mentioned that "the simple...who always constitute the majority of believers" found it difficult to see the total Unity that exists between the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit "who are so closely united with the Father in His substance" and that we must believe what the triune God has revealed about Himself. I'm not suggesting, by the way, that every detail that Tertullian said about the Trinity was correct, but that he was right to teach the Trinity and oppose the oneness that came on the scene through Praxeas and others in his day.)
Paul F. Pavao ("Decoding Nicea" [Greatest Stories Ever Told, 2011, 2014], 463 pages), who believes in the Trinity, mentions (on page 46) that "Sabellius...was an early-third-century teacher who was excommunicated for denying the three persons of the Trinity. To Sabellius, God was just one divine person revealing himself three ways, in much the same way as an actor might play three roles." He goes on to point out that Sabellianism was easier to understand. [[It probably is easier to understand if you don't get into the details. For one thing, as Pavao points out, "The majority of believers in pre-Nicene Christianity came out of paganism. They had come from a religion of many Gods to Christianity of only one God. (Tertullian made this point.) How could this one God also have a Son? And how could this Son also be God?" We must understand that the Bible doesn't teach three separate Gods: There are three distinct Persons related in ways that we do not fully understand (because it hasn't been fully revealed), but the fact that the Son and the Spirit (though fully God) have roles that are subordinate to God the Father helps us understand the relationship of the three Persons. Who can fully understand God beyond what He reveals? We will understand a whole lot more after we are glorified.]] But just because it's easy doesn't make it true. We should not be surprised that the truth about God is somewhat difficult for humans to understand." Somewhat difficult, or not, we must teach the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. And I believe the oneness/modalistic viewpoint is much more difficult (or I could say impossible) to believe when you get into the details of all that the Bible has to say on this topic.
I'll quote a paragraph from Edward L. Dalcour, who believes in the Trinity ("A Definitive Look at Oneness Theology: In the Light of Biblical Trinitarianism" [Copyright 2011 by North-West University], page 26): "Shortly after the Christian church condemned Sabellius as a heretic...Modalism generally died off, at least until Emanuel Swedenborg [AD1688-1772] had a 'revelation' that Jesus was the one Person behind the masks of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whereas early Modalism (Sabellius in particular) taught that the one Person behind the three masks or modes was the Father, not Jesus." In the next paragraph he discusses how the modern Oneness Pentecostalism, "with the UPCI being the largest Oneness denomination," started when some early Pentecostals began to consider the correct baptismal formula. "From 1913 to 1916 several Pentecostal leaders...began teaching the 'correct' baptismal formula must be 'in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ' [based on Acts 2:38]...." This ultimately led some to a modalistic view of God, where Jesus (not the Father, with Sabellius) is the One true God. This included their wrong idea that Jesus is the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Matt. 28:19. There isn't one place in the New Testament (with over 900 uses of the name) where the name Jesus is used of the Father, the Spirit, or the Trinity. Significant details like this are common.
For the details regarding what happened from 1913-1916 see pages 153-158 of Vinson Synan's "The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States" (Eerdmans, 1971, 248 pages). Also see chapter 2 ("The 'New Issue' [referring to the oneness viewpoint] Controversy," starting especially on page 45 under the heading "Birth of the 'New Issue' ") in "Christianity without the Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism" by Thomas A. Fudge (Universal Publishers, 2003, 394 pages). This "birth of the 'new issue' " started in April, 1913 at a "World-Wide Apostolic Camp Meeting in Arroyo Seco, California near Pasadena" (page 45). They weren't borrowing from earlier oneness believers at that time but relying on their interpretation of the relevant verses (like Acts 2:38 and Matt. 28:19) while relying on the [supposed] revelation of the Holy Spirit. I believe those Christians were totally sincere, but I also believe they seriously misinterpreted the Bible, and it is quite possible that they received some "revelations" from demon spirits who are always eager to "help" Christians. I am confident that this has rather often happened with sincere Christians (it ought not be!), not to mention those on the edge of Christianity.
It is significant that they did not feel a need to specifically deal with modalism/oneness at the Council of Nicea (AD 325). The council was called to first and foremost deal with the heresy of Arius, who denied the deity of the Lord Jesus. (If you deny the deity of the Son, you deny the Trinity, but that is very far from teaching the oneness [one Person] viewpoint.) Essentially all of the bishops and leaders who were there accepted the Nicene Creed, which didn't leave any room for the oneness viewpoint. We will discuss the council and the creed as we continue.
David Bernard also wrote "The Oneness of God," which is very popular among oneness/modalistic Christians. I read the book a few years ago. I obviously disagree with most of his interpretation of the Bible on this topic. I'll comment on his interpretations of John 1:1; 17:5; and Phil. 2:6 when we deal with these passages in this paper. It seems clear to me that his interpretations of these verses and many other verses are very strained (and wrong) in an attempt to make them fit his oneness doctrine. (Bernard isn't the only Christian scholar who is forced to do this. I'm sure he realizes that many of these interpretations are strained, but he is forced to say something that will fit the viewpoint he is committed to. For one thing, the people of his denomination and other oneness Christians have been looking to him [and others] to defend modalism/oneness and prove that it is true.)
In the process of writing this present paper, one of the books I purchased and read was "Kiss the Son: A Christological Apology in Response to David K. Bernard's 'The Oneness of God' " by Michael R. Burgos Jr. (Biblical Press, 2012), 147 pages. Burgos wrote the book specifically to refute Bernard's oneness teaching, mostly dealing with his interpretation of the Bible. I agree with just about everything Burgos says. I'll quote the first paragraph of his Conclusion: "If there is one thing that I have sought to demonstrate within this book, it is that David K. Bernard has approached the Scriptures with a preconceived doctrinal commitment regarding what constitutes biblical monotheism [believing that there is one God]. Again and again Bernard has been shown to have imported unitarianism [uni/one person] into the text of Scripture. [Bernard would, of course, insist it was always there in Scripture. I'm sure with Burgos that Bernard is wrong.] While it is commendable to emphasize the monotheistic theology of Scripture, it is another thing entirely to repetitiously resort to eisegesis [which means reading into Scripture what isn't there] in an effort to justify a particular type of monotheistic theology [that there must be one Person]. Unitarianism, whether it be that of the Arians, Socinians, Muslims, or Oneness Pentecostals, always results in a low view of the Son of God. In Bernard's case the Son is relegated to being someone who began to exist at a point in time [at the time of the virgin birth]" (page 135).
The Bible doesn't teach a oneness/modalistic view of God, but it is clear that God didn't adequately or clearly reveal the Trinity in the Old Testament. That was part of His plan. Revelation is progressive. He didn't adequately or clearly reveal the Son of God in the Old Testament or that the Messiah would be deity either, and Israel didn't believe in, or have much room for, those things when Jesus came on the scene. We need to keep our minds open for God to correct what we believe. Israel didn't have any adequate excuses for rejecting their Messiah when He came.
I agree that oneness/modalistic Christians can make what seems to be a strong case for their viewpoint if they limit themselves to a few passages that seem to fit their viewpoint well. (Most Christians, not just oneness Christians, are typically willing to accept a viewpoint, and then close their minds to other viewpoints, based on their understanding of less than five passages.) I dealt with at least most of the key passages they use in my thirty-three page paper, "More on the Trinity: Some Key Passages from the New Testament Where We See the Full Deity and Preexistence of God the Son with God the Father and Some Key Bible Passages Used to Teach a Oneness View of God." (As I mentioned, I'll quote most of that paper in this paper.) Many books written by Trinitarian authors deal with the relevant passages. (Now, having finished the thirteen paragraph digression, I'll continue the quotation from Irvin Baxter:)]]
The Apostles and the early church had always baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. [[As I showed above, the oneness scholar David Bernard, in his "Oneness and Trinity - AD 100-300 - The Doctrine of God in Ancient Christian Writings," demonstrates that Baxter was wrong in saying that "the mode of baptism that had always been used by the church from baptizing people 'in the name of Jesus Christ' " was changed at Nicea in 325. It is very easy to demonstrate that there was a whole lot of baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the early Christian church, as I demonstrate in this paper. That didn't start at Nicea (AD 325) like Baxter says it did.]] Acts 2:38 says,
'...be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ [Baxter's emphasis in (for the last six words)]....'
Acts 8:16, Acts 10:48 and Acts 19:5 all tell of people being baptized 'in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ'. In fact, every single account of baptism in the Bible tells of it being done in the name of Jesus Christ. [[There are many accounts of baptism in the New Testament that do not mention baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. (The wording in these four accounts varies in a couple of ways, ways that I don't consider significant, but they demonstrate that they didn't have a fixed formula.) These four verses in Acts are the only ones that mention being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ in the New Testament [cf. 1 Cor. 1:10-17.]]
This changed with the Council of Nicea when the Roman Catholic Church decided that there were three distinct persons in the godhead.
[[(Some More Comments in Another Double Bracket (Ten Paragraphs) that Responds to what Baxter Has Wrongly Said Regarding the Viewpoint of the Apostles and Early Christian Church. Then I'll continue to quote from Baxter.) It isn't true that it was decided that there were three distinct persons in the godhead at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. (We'll discuss the Council of Nicea more as we continue with this paper.) That had already been decided by what the Lord Jesus had passed on to the apostles and those who learned from them. We can see this throughout the New Testament, with a rather strong confirmation from the Old Testament. And, as I have demonstrated, we can see this in the early church writings from before AD 325. Furthermore, the Council of Nicea was not under the church at Rome. The church at Rome was involved at Nicea, but they did not play a dominant role there. The bishop of Rome wasn't even there at Nicea. Apparently that had something to do with his age, but he did send representatives to Nicea. It is very clear that the bishop of Rome was not recognized across the Roman Empire as having final authority in matters of the Christian church.
The bishop of Alexandria (in Egypt), Alexander, played a much more prominent role in the Council of Nicea. For one thing, the primary reason that Constantine, the Roman emperor, called these Christian leaders together, was to deal with the Arian heresy. Arius, who was an elder in the church at Alexandria, came up with the serious doctrinal error, clearly deserving the name "heresy," of saying that the Son of God was a created being, thereby effectively denying the deity of the Lord Jesus. Alexander, the bishop at Alexandria, rejected this teaching of Arius.
The bishops from across Constantine's Roman Empire were not gathered to Nicea to adopt the doctrine of the Trinity, as Baxter stated. They were at Nicea to refute the teaching of Arius (and a few other things), not to refute oneness, but the Nicene Creed did make it clear that they were upholding the Trinity, not modalism/oneness. The apostles (who along with, and under, the Lord Jesus, laid the foundation for the new-covenant church, Christianity) understood and accepted the foundational truths regarding God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit at least by the time of the Day of Pentecost. The apostles may not have been able to fully and adequately explain the triune God, and we aren't able to fully and adequately explain Him either.
We can only know as much as God reveals to us; and our capacity to understand God in our present state of existence is limited, but God is not asking us to believe something that is all that difficult to believe. He (or His Word) is not asking us to believe that three equals one or anything like that. Not at all! He is asking us to believe, based on His revelation, that there are three Persons in the Trinity, all of them fully deity. Who knows enough to inform God that He has to exist in a more simple form (oneness, one Person). In reality, as I have mentioned, when you get into the details, the oneness/modalistic viewpoint is not easier to believe, quite the opposite.
By the time Jesus went back to the Father forty days after His resurrection (cf., e.g., Acts 1:2, 3; 2:33; Luke 24:25-27; 44-49), the apostles would have adequately understood the deity of the Lord Jesus, God the Son, who had always existed with God the Father, and through whom all things had been created (cf., e.g., John 1:1-5, 14; 17:5; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 2:13-17; and Heb. 1:1-3). Jesus also made it clear that the Father had sent Him into the world, starting at the time of His virgin birth (cf., e.g., John 3:11-13; 6:38, 42). This information left no room for the oneness/modalistic view of God. Jesus had told them enough while He was with them for them to understand His deity before the cross (before His all-important atoning death), but it is clear that they did not understand His deity yet. That was a lot to understand! For one thing, Israel did not believe in God the Son or that the Messiah (Christ) would be deity. (I'm not denying that a few individuals may have understood these things.) The fact that the apostles did not believe Jesus had been raised from the dead until He proved it to them (cf., e.g., Mark 16:11-14; John 20:8, 9) confirms that they did not yet adequately understand and believe in His deity. I don't believe any apostle ever seriously considered the oneness idea that God the Father and the Lord Jesus were the same Person or that God the Father was incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man.
Receiving the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost enabled the apostles (and all born-again Christians) to better understand the triune God and to relate to God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit on a deeper, more personal level. What Jesus said in John 14:26 is relevant here: "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, 'He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.' " (John 14:26 is one of a very large number of passages throughout the New Testament, very much including the book of Revelation, where we read of the distinction between the three Persons of the Trinity.) THE APOSTLES ALWAYS AND CLEARLY AND RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD THAT JESUS WAS NOT THE FATHER OR THE HOLY SPIRIT. I am confident that they never were even tempted to accept such ideas. The Lord Jesus had taught the apostles a whole lot when He was with them for at least two and one-half years before the cross, and IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT HE WAS ABLE TO SUPPLEMENT THAT INFORMATION WITH MUCH MORE DETAIL AND COMPLETENESS IN THE FORTY DAYS HE INTERACTED WITH THEM AFTER HIS RESURRECTION AND BEFORE HIS ASCENSION. For example, see Luke 24:25-27; 44-49; Acts 1:1-8. Furthermore, He was able to communicate with them after His ascension by appearing to them in person, like with the apostle Paul, or by the Holy Spirit, or by God's angels.
I don't believe the thought ever entered the mind of the apostles that maybe God the Father did not exist apart from the Lord Jesus (that He was the divine nature of Jesus). That thought certainly did not enter their minds before they understood the deity of the Lord Jesus, and there was no basis for that thought to enter their minds later on the basis of anything that they learned from the Lord Jesus or anywhere else. And the New Testament and those taught by the apostles did not believe in or teach a oneness view of God. Jesus taught the apostles that the Holy Spirit was a different Person than God the Father, and they certainly clearly understood that point by the Day of Pentecost.
There isn't one verse, rightly understood, that teaches oneness. Furthermore, as I mentioned, the early Christian writings from the days before Nicea are packed with these same truths that came, in large part, from revelation given to the apostles. As I mentioned, you can find references to some who taught oneness in the early Christian writings, but the oneness view was strongly rejected in those writings. (The Christian writings that dealt with the oneness viewpoint didn't demonstrate any people teaching that viewpoint until toward the end of the second century, and as it was pointed out above, those writings came from Trinitarians who were rejecting the oneness viewpoint.) THE REALLY IMPORTANT THING IS THAT THERE AREN'T ANY VERSES IN THE BIBLE (RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD) THAT TEACH ONENESS. As I mentioned, the writers of the New Testament did not believe in oneness. This doesn't mean that they understood every detail regarding the Trinity. We don't understand every detail either, because God hasn't revealed every detail.
As I mentioned, there are several verses that fit the oneness view well, but none of those verses teach oneness, and a gigantic number of verses make it clear that the oneness view is wrong. I believe most Christians who hold the oneness/modalistic view of God would open their minds and change their viewpoint if they could get beyond the few verses (we sometimes call them "proof texts") that they are sure teach their viewpoint. Once you get beyond those supposed proof texts, the New Testament makes it quite clear that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are not the same Person. It isn't true that when we get to heaven we will find the oneness/modalistic Jesus there by Himself. We will see God the Father on His throne, and the Holy Spirit will be there too. (I'm not sure if the Holy Spirit exists in a form where we will be able to see Him.) Jesus is the name of the eternal Son of God who always existed with God the Father, who humbled Himself to become a man (but so much more than just a man). As I mentioned, the name Jesus (which is used over nine-hundred times in the New Testament) is never used in the New Testament for God the Father or the Holy Spirit or the Trinity. There is a reason for facts like this: The oneness view is wrong!
Most of the leaders who came to Nicea were from the eastern part of the Roman Empire. (Rome was in the western part of the Roman Empire.) Their language was Greek, unlike the Romans who spoke Latin, and they certainly did not look to the church at Rome as the final authority. (But it was understood that the church at Rome had a very important heritage in Christianity from early days. The apostle Paul spent quite a bit of time there, as did the apostle Peter. Tradition says that both of them were martyred for Christ there.) Now I'll continue to quote from Baxter:]] This change in doctrine [at Nicea in 325, according to Baxter] threw the Roman Catholic Church into spiritual whoredom. The doctrine of the trinity states that God is three - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost [Spirit]. However the first commandment in Deuteronomy 6:4 states, 'Here, O Israel, the LORD [Yahweh in the Hebrew] our God is one Lord.' " We have discussed Deut. 6:4 to some extent already; we will discuss it in a fuller sense later in this paper (see the Contents).
Some More Comments Regarding Baxter's Statement that as a Result of Adopting the Doctrine of the Trinity "at the Council of Nicea...[they] changed the mode of baptism that had always been used in the church from baptizing people 'in the name of Jesus Christ' to 'Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.' " It is very clear (as I have demonstrated and will further demonstrate as we continue) that very large numbers of Christians were baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the years before Nicea. For one thing, the statement of the Lord Jesus recorded in Matt. 28:19 would eventually carry a lot more weight than the fact that baptizing in the name of Jesus was mentioned four times in the book of Acts, but nowhere else in the New Testament, except for 1 Cor. 1:13. We'll discuss Matt. 28:19 some as we continue, but I'll mention here that baptizing "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" is included in the early Christian document called the "Didache" (the Teaching). It was probably written before the end of the first century. Regarding Matt. 28:19, there is some uncertainty regarding when the Gospel of Matthew was written, but it was probably written in the 60s. The Day of Pentecost probably took place in AD 30. I'll quote from the Didache as we continue.
It is very important to see that the fact that Peter spoke of being baptized in the name of Jesus on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38, for example, had nothing (zero) to do with his believing or teaching a oneness view of God, which Baxter is wrongly assuming. Baptizing in the name of Jesus (or praying in His name, etc.) is one thing. Accepting the oneness view of God is something TOTALLY different. The apostles did not believe (on the Day of Pentecost or any other time) that the Lord Jesus was God the Father incarnate, or that Jesus was wrong when He spoke of being with the Father before being sent to the earth and of His going back to be with the Father (cf., e.g., John 1:1-3, 14; 3:13, 17; 7:33; 19:36; and 17:5; and there are many similar verses).
Jesus was with the apostles off and on for forty days before He ascended to the Father some ten days before the Day of Pentecost. He told them He was going back to the Father. There was no basis at all for them to think He was the Father incarnate (or the Holy Spirit). Acts 2:33 is a verse of key importance (it fits the typical New Testament pattern; we see the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three distinct Persons, but not three independent Persons, not three Gods): "Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God [God the Father], and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He [the Lord Jesus] has poured forth this which you both see and hear [on the Day of Pentecost]."
Peter and the apostles knew a lot about the relationship between God the Father and the Lord Jesus, because Jesus had taught them (and demonstrated before them) of His relationship with God the Father, who had sent Him into the world to be born of the virgin and to return to the Father when He had completed His all-important mission that has saved us and defeated the devil and those who follow him. And it is extremely important that Jesus was able to supplement what He had taught them and to correct any wrong ideas during the forty days before He ascended from the Mount of Olives. Peter's speaking of being baptized "in the name of Jesus" (Acts 2:38) had absolutely nothing to do with his having a oneness view of God; that thought never entered his mind. And none of the other apostles, or of the 120 gathered in the upper room, including His mother according to the flesh, had any room for the oneness view of God. I'm sure that they did not fully understand the Person of the Lord Jesus or the relationship He had with God the Father, but they knew as much as they needed to know, and they certainly did not believe that Jesus was God the Father incarnate. It is certain that the apostles had become grounded in the deity of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, in the days following the resurrection and before the Day of Pentecost.
I doubt that you could have found one person among all the Jews who were gathered on the Day of Pentecost, including the disciples of Jesus, who thought in terms of Jesus being God the Father incarnate. It would take a long time for a wrong view like that to arise since, for one thing, none of the apostles, who laid the foundation for the Christian church believed it. The first thing - the controversial thing - that those who were listening to Peter preach on the Day of Pentecost needed to understand and accept was that Jesus was the Messiah, the Messiah that Israel had rejected, starting with most of the leaders. That would be a giant, and a necessary, first step.
Peter, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), didn't get into the details regarding Jesus being the Son of God and deity with God the Father. (At least those things, things which are super-important, are not mentioned in Acts 2.) Anyway, those things are super important and you can be sure that those who repented and opened their hearts to God the Father and His new-covenant salvation would have been taught those essential truths very soon, perhaps before they were baptized. We cannot adequately understand new-covenant salvation without learning that the Messiah is deity, God the Son - Hallelujah! What a Lamb of God! What a Savior!
Peter spoke of His all-important atoning death which was ordained by God the Father and of His resurrection that had come to pass in accordance with prophecy, and as I mentioned, that He had been taken up in glory and received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and that He had poured forth the Spirit, which was confirmed by the supernatural things (including the fact that "suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they [those gathered in the upper room] were sitting"). And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them" (Acts 2:2, 3), and the fact that they were speaking in tongues before the gathered multitudes in languages they did not know but were known by those gathered there; they were "speaking of the mighty things of God" (Acts 2:11). They were certainly speaking of the glory of new-covenant salvation through the virgin born, sinless, crucified, resurrected, glorified, and ascended Savior, who is God the Son who became the God-man.
We will continue discussing the Day of Pentecost in Part 3 of this paper.
Copyright by Karl Kemp
http://www.karlkempteachingministries.com Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.
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