Oneness and the word "person"

Oneness theology denies the Trinity doctrine and claims that there is one person in the Godhead who has manifested himself in three different forms: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These "forms" are not three distinct persons but one person who occupied consecutive modes. The Trinity, on the other hand, is the teaching that there is one God who exists in three distinct, simultaneous persons. Please note, though, this is not saying there are three gods.

In defending the doctrine of the Trinity and in examining the Oneness doctrine regarding the Godhead, it is first necessary to define the terms that are used. Since the Trinity doctrine states there are three persons in one Godhead and Oneness Pentecostal theology states there is only one person, we first need to know what a "person" is before we try to discover whether or not God is three persons or one. Therefore, we need to ask what qualifies someone as having "personhood"?

I offer the following analysis as an attempt to adequately define personhood. After the outline, I will try and show that the definition and/or characteristics of personhood can be applied to both the Father and the Son in a context that shows they both existed as persons at the same time thereby proving Oneness theology is incorrect.

What are the qualities and attributes of being a person?

  1. A person exists and has identity.
  2. A person is aware of his own existence and identity.
    1. This precludes the condition of being unconscious.
  3. A self-aware person will use such a statement as "I am," "me." "mine." etc.
  4. A person can recognize the existence of other persons.
    1. This is true provided there were other persons around him or her.
    2. Such recognition would include the use of such statements as "you are", "you", "yours", etc.
  5. A person possesses a will.
    1. A will is the capability of conscious choice, decision, intention, desire, and/or purpose.
  6. A single person cannot have two separate and distinct wills at the same time on the exact same subject.
    1. Regarding the exact same subject, a person can desire/will one thing at one moment and another at a different moment.
    2. Separate and simultaneous wills imply separate and simultaneous persons.
  7. A person has the ability to communicate--under normal conditions.
  8. Persons do not need to have bodies.
    1. God the Father possesses personhood without a body--as do the angels.
    2. Biblically speaking, upon death we are "absent from the body and home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8).

God qualifies as having personhood in that He exists, is self-aware, has identity, uses terms such as "Me", "I AM", "My," and possesses a will.

The question now becomes whether or not there is more than one "person" in the Godhead.

"Let this cup pass from Me."

"And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, 42Saying, 'Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done'" (Luke 22:41-42).

"And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, 'O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt'" (Matt. 26:39).

In both Luke 22:42 and Matt. 26:39 (which are parallel passages), the context is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane--right before His betrayal. He was praying to the Father about the ordeal He was about to undergo. Several points are worth bringing out here:

First, in this passage, Jesus addresses the Father. He says, "Oh my Father . . . " Note that Jesus says "my" and "Father." These two words designate a "me and you" relationship.

Second, "If it be possible" is Jesus expressing a desire--a hope. What is that hope or desire? It is that "this cup pass from me." The cup Jesus is speaking of is the imminent ordeal of betrayal, scourging, and crucifixion. Jesus did not want to go through this. He was expressing His desire. It was His will not to undergo the severe ordeal ahead of Him. If this was not so, He would not have expressed the desire to have the cup pass from Him.

Third, in Matt. 26:39, Jesus says, "Nevertheless., not my will, but thine, be done." In Luke 22:42 he says, "Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." With this, Jesus is expressing His will and contrasting it to the will of the Father. Yet, He is stating that even though He does not want to undergo what lay ahead, "Nevertheless," He would submit to the will of the Father--and not his own will.

This shows that the person of Jesus had a separate and different will than the Father. Since we have two separate simultaneous wills, we have two separate and simultaneous persons and Oneness Pentecostal theology is incorrect.

Questions to ask the Oneness person

  1. Is Jesus His own Father?
  2. If Jesus' will and the Father's will were identical (in an attempt to demonstrate that there is only one will), then why did Jesus express the desire to escape the cup but resigns Himself not to His own will but to the will of the Father?
  3. Was Jesus praying to Himself at this point?
  4. Was Jesus saying, "Not My will, but My will be done?" if there is only one person and one will involved?



About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.