Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Words of Jesus Against the Error of Modalism

In the New Testament, Jesus often addresses or refers to the other Persons of the Godhead. We see this especially in the Gospel of John, the very book which most-clearly teaches His deity. We see it in John 12:49, 14:16-26, 15:26, and 16:5-15. I bring this topic up because of the claims of the Modalists, or Sabellians (seen primarily in the United Pentecostal Church), that there is no distinction of Persons within the Godhead, but merely the one Person working in different modes (thus the name "modalism").

Consider, first, John 12:49: "I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak." If the Persons of the Trinity are actually one Person acting under two modes, how can the Father speak to the Son? For the Trinitarian, this isn't a problem; it is an aspect of the intra-Trinitarian covenant. For the Modalist, there is no explanation except irrationalisty.

In the second passage, John 14:16-26, Jesus refers to Himself, the Father, and the Spirit. Look at, for example, verses 16-17: "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth." Thus, we have the Son speaking in the first Person, referring to both of the other Persons, speaking of what He would do, "ask the Father," then what the Father would do, "give the Spirit," then what the Spirit would do, "be with you forever." The Modalists claim that this sentence is an anthropomorphism, i. e., Jesus's describing Himself, acting in all three modes. Yet, how can this be? When Jesus says that He will ask the Father, are we truly to understand that He is speaking to Himself? And when the Father sends the Spirit, are we to understand that Jesus is sending Himself? So, to paraphrase the sentence the way the Modalists understand it: "I will ask Myself to send Myself, and then I will be with you forever." That isn't an anthropomorphism; that's insanity!

In the third passage, John 15:26, we see a nearly-identical remarks: "When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me." Again, we see, not each Person acting in turn, as the Modalists maintain, but all three acting in concert.

In the last passage, John 16:5-15, we see something similar. Verses 13-15 read, "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is Mine; therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and declare it to you." Again, the Apostle records Jesus's own words describing the Persons of the Trinity acting in concert, not in succession, as the Modalists claim.

Consider the alternative: if the Modalists were right, and there is one divine Person who changes roles, would Jesus not have said something like, "I will return to heaven, and then come back to you as the Spirit"? That is shorter, not at all equivocal or difficult to understand, yet not what Jesus says. In fact it isn't even comparable to what Jesus said. Therefore, is it not simple logic to understand that it isn't what Jesus meant?

My point is this: the Bible does, indeed, use anthropomorphisms. However, they are used for clarification, not obfuscation. The Modalist expects us to believe that Jesus is using figures of speech, not to reveal the truth, but to obscure it.

No comments: