Modalism is the heretical view that God, unlike on Trinitarianism, is not 3 persons in 1 divine essence, but is instead 1 person in 1 divine essence, and this 1 person goes through different “modes” (hence the name “modalism”). For example, water can exist in 3 different states; liquid, solid, and ice. These are just different states that the water goes into, but it’s still only 1 substance. I can be a father, a son, and a husband, but I’m not 3 distinct persons, these are just different roles that I fulfill. In the same way, the modalist will say, The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit are really all 1 person, but “Father”, “Fon” and “Holy Spirit” are the names of the different roles God plays. They will use various scriptures to support their view, but these scriptures are misinterpreted, and in this blog post, I will explain why.
1: “I and The Father are one.” – John 10:30
Modalists often appeal to John 10:30 to support their view. In this passage, Jesus says that He and The Father are one. So they’ll say “See! Jesus says they’re one! They’re one and the same! They’re not two, they’re one!”
John 10:30 is an excellent scriptural passage proving that Jesus is God, but it’s not an excellent scriptural passage if you’re trying to prove that Jesus and The Father are the same person. The Greek word for “one” in this passage means “one in nature” or “one in essence”. But the Trinitarian believes this about Jesus and The Father! Because Jesus and The Father are both God, they are therefore of the same essence. That’s what the Trinity teaches; that there is only one God who exists as 3 distinct persons. The persons of the Trinity are distinct in their personhood, yet all share the same divine essence.
Jesus is clearly claiming to be God here. In fact, in the following verses, the Jews pick up stones to stone him. Jesus says “I have shown you many great miracles from The Father. For which of these do you stone me?” The Jews responded “We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:31-33). They knew what Jesus was claiming. So yeah, this is excellent scriptural evidence that Jesus claimed to be God, but as I point out above, Trinitarians believe that The Father and The Son are one in essence. We just don’t believe they’re the same person. If that sounds like incoherent nonsense to you, check out my blog posts “Does The Bible Teach That God Is A Trinity” and “Is Believing In The Trinity Irrational?”
2: “Here, O Israel: The Lord Our God, The Lord is one.” – Deuteronomy 6:4
Modalists often use Deuteronomy 6:4 to argue that Trinitarian theology is false. The point they make is that since this verse says “The Lord is one” that obviously is incompatible with the view that “God is three” i.e that God is a trinity. They’ll say “See, God can’t be a Trinity because Deuteronomy 6:4 says that The Lord is one. He can’t be 3 persons and 1 person at the same time!” The problem with this argument is that it misunderstands the doctrine of The Trinity. We are not saying that there are 3 Gods. That would be polytheism. Rather, we are saying that there is 1 God and that this 1 God eternally exists as 3 persons. This is entirely compatible with the shema quoted above. The shema is a statement of monotheism. Trinitarianism is monotheistic. We don’t believe in 3 Gods. We believe in 1 God.
In fact, as I argue in “Does The Bible Teach That God Is A Trinity”, the doctrine of The Trinity is inferred from 5 teachings of The Bible. (1) There is only one God. (2) The Father is God. (3) Jesus is God. (4) The Holy Spirit is God. (5) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons. The doctrine of The Trinity is inferred from these 5 biblical facts. In fact, in that article, I appeal to Deuteronomy 6:4 to support that first point; there is only one God. There is no other.
Notice also that it’s only on point number 5 where Trinitarians and Modalists differ. We both affirm monotheism and we both affirm the deity of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Where we disagree is on whether these three persons really are three persons or whether they’re merely 3 different modes that 1 person goes through.
3: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen The Father.” – John 14:9
John 14 is part of John’s account of The Last Supper. Jesus has just told his disciples that He will soon be going back to His Father in Heaven, and He tells them that they know the place where He is going. Thomas says to Him “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” to which Jesus responds “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to The Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.” Then Phillip says to Jesus “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” To which Jesus responds “Don’t you know me, Phillip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen The Father. How can you say ‘show us The Father’?” (John 14:1-9).
The modalist argues that Jesus is affirming that He is God The Father in this passage. Philip asks Jesus to show them The Father. Jesus says “don’t you know me? Anyone who has seen me has seen The Father”. The Modalist argues that Jesus is essentially saying He doesn’t need to show them the Father because He is The Father.
I don’t think Jesus is saying this at all. The main reason is because the biblical evidence for the distinct personhood of The Father and The Son is very, very powerful. In fact, many scriptures that argue for the distinct personhood for The Father, and The Son are found in John’s gospel; the very gospel this modalist prooftext is taken from! Now, I won’t go into all of those scriptures here for the sake of brevity, so I’ll just redirect you to my blog post “Does The Bible Teach That God Is A Trinity.” But there are many passages in John’s gospel alone that make no sense unless The Father and The Son are distinct persons. A basic principle in biblical hermenutics is to interpret the unclear passages of scripture in light of the clear. If The Bible makes an overwhelming case for the distinct personhood of The Father and The Son in many other places in scripture (and it does), then we should prefer an interpretation of John 14:9 that jives with Trinitarianism rather than having to reinterpret all of the distinction passages to fit the modalist interpretation of John 14:9.
Here’s what Jesus most likely means when He says “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen The Father”. I think Jesus is saying here that since He and The Father are the same Being, then if you’ve gotten to know one person of the Trinity, it’s as though you’ve gotten to know all three of them. After all, since they’re all the same Being, they would all have the same personality traits and the same properties (e.g omnipotence, omniscience, etc). Jesus is saying to Phillip that He already knows what The Father is like since he knows what Jesus is like. They’ve spent 3 years traveling with Jesus. They know that He’s kind, loving, forgiving, compassionate, hates evil, gets angry at sin, and so on, They’ve observed His behavior for 3 years. Therefore, if The Father became incarnate instead of the Son, they wouldn’t be seeing anything different. If The Father became incarnate, He would behave exactly as Jesus does. You would observe the same personality traits in the ((hypothetically)) incarnate Father as you do in the incarnate Son.
Jesus is a gateway into what The Father and Holy Spirit are like. As Colossians says “He is the visible image of the invisible God…” (Colossians 1:15). Whatever Jesus laughs at, The Father laughs at. Whatever Jesus weeps over, The Father weeps over. If you spend 3 years with Jesus and make a list of his personality traits, The Father has those same personality traits. Therefore, if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve essentially seen The Father.
This is a more likely interpretation in light of the overabundance of scriptures affirming their distinct personhood.
4: “Isaiah 9:6 says Jesus Is The Everlasting Father”
Isaiah 9:6 is another Bible verse Modalists like to use to try to justify their position. In the book of Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah. In chapter 9 verse 6, Isaiah wrote “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” So the Messiah who was to come would be a wonderful counselor, according to Isaiah. He would also be the “Mighty God” in human flesh (i.e The Messiah would be God Himself) and he would be the “Prince Of Peace”. So what’s the problem supposed to be? Trinitarians believe these things. Trinitarians believe that Jesus is God, He also brings comfort and peace to those who know Him. The point the Modalists are trying to make is that Isaiah says he’s the “Everlasting Father”. On Modalism, they argue, this makes perfect sense since God is only one person and The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit are just modes He goes through. On Modalism, Jesus is God The Father, so Isaiah’s description of him seems appropriate.
Does this text prove that Jesus is God The Father? I don’t think so. First, we need to interpret scripture in light of scripture. As mentioned above, there’s an overabundance of scriptures pointing to the distinct personhood of The Father and The Son. And while I can’t make a biblical case here for the sake of brevity, I will advise you to check out Richard Bushey’s post “Is Jesus The Father?”, and “Does The Bible Teach That God Is A Trinity” and this debate my friends Martin Glynn and Robert Rowe had against two modalists on this topic. In these posts, you'll see much biblical evidence for the distinct personhood of the persons of the Trinity.
But then, if The Bible overwhelmingly testifies against Modalism elsewhere then why does Isaiah call him “Everlasting Father”?
This is not the case at all. "Eternal Father" (Avi Ad in Hebrew) simply is a term of authority here. The whole subject of Isaiah 9:6 and Isaiah 9:7 that follows right after it is about authority. Making references to the "government" "counselor" "Father" and "Prince." is simply to say that the messiah would be the ruler of the world. The term "father" is also used in Isaiah 22:21. In this verse of The Bible, Isaiah speaks of Eliakim; “I will commit thy government into his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.” We see the term "father" here is just an authority figure.
This verse could also be interpreted as saying that Jesus is the father of creation. After all John 1, Hebrews 1, and Colossians 1 do tell us that Jesus is the Creator of the universe. It is not uncommon even in more modern times to refer to creators of something (be it a country, a scientific discipline, or what have you) as “fathers”. Take the “founding fathers” of The United States Of America as an example. Since Jesus “laid the foundations of the earth” (Hebrews 1: 10) it wouldn’t be unusual to call him the “Founding Father” of the universe.
But I think it’s more likely that “father” is being used as an authoritative term, a term to describe Jesus as the ruler of the world. The “everlasting” part is because as Daniel 7 says, his reign will never end.
5: Matthew 28:19 cross referenced with Acts 2:38
Often times Modalists argue that Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38 proves that Jesus is The Father, Son & Holy Spirit, and that there is no distinction of persons in the godhead. Matthew 28:19 says that we should baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They argue that this was fulfilled in Acts 2:38, which says that Peter baptized in the name of Jesus. What this means, they argue, is that the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is Jesus. Father, Son, and Spirit are mere titles or roles that Jesus has or plays, but the name of The Father, Son and Holy Spirit is Jesus.
What are Trinitarians to make of this passage? In his blog post “What Is Wrong With The Oneness View Of God”, Richard Bushey addresses this argument thusly: “This will raise the question of why Peter and the apostles baptized in the name of Jesus. It should be noted that the phrase ‘in the name of,’ is an idiom for power and authority. When the apostles were on trial, the Jewish court asked them,’by what power, or in what name do you do this?’ (Acts 4:7). If you act in somebody’s name, you are acting under their authority. It is something like an executioner acting in the name of the king. We might pull our cars over for a police officer in the name of the law. This is an idiom for power and authority that Jesus used. So when he told his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, he was telling them to baptize under their authority and power. He was not establishing a baptismal formula. Hence, there is just no contradiction when Peter baptizes in the name of Jesus because it is the same authority. What is wrong with the oneness view of God? It is based upon a misunderstanding of Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38.”
We should not be surprised that baptizing a person in the name of only person of the Trinity carries the same weight as baptizing them in the name of another, or all 3. After all, all 3 persons of the Trinity are equally God. They have the same authority, the same power, the same omni attributes, the same loving and forgiving nature. The 3 persons of the Trinity are all equal.
We've seen that the usual biblical arguments for Modalism fail.