Is God One Person Instead of Three Persons? What is Modalism?
Does God exist as one Person or does God exist as three distinct Persons? Modalism is the false theological view that God is a single Person instead of three distinct Persons.
Therefore modalism states that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit do not all exist at the same time and that they are not 3 distinct Persons.
Modalism believes God is one single Person who sometimes takes the mode or form of the Father, then later He can change into the Son and then He can also transform into the Holy Spirit.
Modalism denies the existence of the Trinity. So it denies that The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons who exist at the same time and who make up the Godhead.
Instead the modalist view is that God is one Person who manifests Himself in three modes or three forms, but never simultaneously or at the same time.
Modalism distorts the Biblical description of God’s divine and triune nature. Modalism theology states that in the Old Testament, God primarily manifested Himself as The Father. In the New Testament, The Father then transformed Himself into The Son. Then after Christ’s crucifixion and ascension, Christ then transformed Himself into the Holy Spirit.
This view of God is completely unbiblical and there are several scriptures which help us to understand that God exists as three distinct Persons.
Matthew 3:16-17 says: And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”.
At the baptism of Jesus Christ in Matthew 3:16-17, we see that the Trinity was present all at the same time. Jesus Christ was present, the Holy Spirit was present descending like a dove and The Father was present to speak about His begotten Son and that we should listen to Him.
This scripture alone proves that the Trinity exists because The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were all present when Christ was baptized.
Matthew 28:18-19 says: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
When Christ gave His disciples the Great Commission, we realize again that God exists as three coexistent Persons since He commands His disciples to baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In John 17:1-26, Jesus did not pray to Himself, but He prayed to The Father indicating that Jesus as the Son of God and being a distinct Person in the Godhead, had a one-on-one relationship with The Father.
In John 11:41-44 before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus first prayed to the Father.
Also throughout the gospels, Jesus Christ makes reference to His Father, and that His Father had sent Him and that Jesus only does what The Father tells Him to do.
For example in John 12:49-50, Jesus says: For 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. 50 And I know that His commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told Me.
In John 14:15-31, Jesus promises that after He leaves the world, the Holy Spirit will come. Jesus does not say that He will transform or manifest to become the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that He is going to the Father and that the Holy Spirit will come and He will be sent by The Father to teach and bring to remembrance all that has been said by Christ.
So even in these scriptures and in the other portions of the gospels, Jesus mentions Himself, the Father and the Holy Spirit as being three coexistent Persons.
The Problem With Modalism
Modalism gives us an improper perception of God’s true nature because it denies the triune existence of God. Modalism creates a false god that is different from the Biblical God.
Modalism also distorts the gospel of Jesus Christ and the essential role that Christ plays in the Godhead.
Modalism also denies the personal and intimate relationship that Christ the Son has with The Father as two coexistent Persons.
For example John 3:16-17 says: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.
In John 10:17-18 Jesus says the following: For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father.
Without the Father sending His Son to pay for our sins on the cross, then salvation would not exist.
However, to the modalist, it is the Father who transformed to become the Son so that He could pay for our sins. This in itself distorts the gospel and speaks of another Jesus and not the Christ described in the Bible. The Christ of the Bible as the God-man provides mediation between God and mankind (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus said no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).
In the Bible, whilst in the world and during His earthly ministry, Jesus submitted Himself to the will of the Father. When Jesus prayed, He did not pray to Himself, but He prayed to God the Father (John 17:1-17).
Therefore modalism distorts the nature of God and even our understanding of the gospel and the specific role Christ plays as our Lord and Saviour for mankind. It denies that Jesus Christ is God the Father’s begotten Son who was sent to save the world but instead modalism denies the distinctiveness of The Father and The Son. Modalism also denies that Christ being distinct from the Holy Spirit, is the one who said He and the Father will send the Holy Spirit to come after Christ ascends. This indicates three distinct Persons working and planning together in unity for the salvation of mankind.
John 14:26 says: 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 have said to you.
John 15:26 says: But 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.
In the two scriptures above, Christ is speaking about the Trinity and identifying in His words that the Father, the Holy Spirit and Himself as the Son are clearly distinct from each other.
Modalism therefore promotes a god who shape-shifts from one form / mode of being into another and therefore distorts the true nature of God and also the gospel.
2 Corinthians 11:4 says: For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
The Father did not change modes to become the Son in order to die on the cross. Instead Christ who is distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit willingly died on the cross for mankind according to the instructions of the Father. Therefore the spiritual roles of the Father and the Holy Spirit are different from that of the Son.
The Bible presents God as one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) but existing as three equal but distinct Persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). This should be the correct understanding of God. God does not shape-shift. He does not change into different modes at different times.
With our finite minds it can be difficult to understand an infinite God and how God can exist as one yet be three distinct Persons. So we cannot fully understand God’s infinite nature because as humans we have naturally limited knowledge and understanding. However our faith must be in God and in His infallible word. Our faith must be in how the Bible describes the nature and characteristics of God. It is through His word that God shows us His nature.
It is therefore important to beware of modalism as it is a concept which distorts the Biblical triune nature of God.