Oneness Pentecostals (OPs) have always struggled to explain the duality of activity and consciousness we see portrayed in Scripture between the Father and Son. The Father is doing one thing, while the Son is doing another; the Father knows all things, while the Son knows only what the Father reveals to Him; the Father is prayed to, while the Son prays. How can this distinction of activity and consciousness be explained other than in terms of multiple persons? Admittedly, that would be the most obvious and natural explanation. And yet, because we are persuaded that the Biblical affirmation of monotheism extends both to God’s essence and God’sperson, OPs have sought an alternative explanation that is Biblically and philosophically sound.
The standard way of explaining the distinction of activity/consciousness between the Father and Son is to appeal to a duality of natures. The human nature of Jesus is said to do X, while the divine nature of Jesus (the Father) is said to do Y. On this account, Jesus’ prayers can be explained as the human nature praying to the divine nature. What I find interesting about this explanation is that it simply swaps the word “person” for “nature.” What Trinitarians refer to as “two persons,” we refer to as “two natures.” Functionally speaking, the two phrases are equivalent, for both admit the presence and distinction of two metaphysically distinct entities. On the Trinitarian view, there are two metaphysically distinct persons in communion with one another, whereas on the OP view, there are two metaphysically distinct natures in communion with one another. The only substantive difference is that on the Trinitarian view both entities are divine, whereas in the OP view one is divine and one is human.
The problem with the traditional OP explanation is two-fold. First, while OPs have tried to avoid the conclusion that God is “two persons,” they have ultimately turned Jesus into two persons. His human nature is understood as a separate person from the Father; a human person. In Jesus, then, there are two persons: one who is divine, and one who is human. But this is de facto Nestorianism. On this view, God did not truly become man, but merely came to dwell within a human person who is ontologically distinct from the divine person.
Secondly, natures are impersonal, and thus cannot be the source of personal activities such as thought and prayer. A nature just refers to a set of essential capacities demarcating what kind of thing someone or something is. Natures cannot think or act. Natures do not pray or speak; only persons are capable of doing these things, utilizing the capacities of their nature to do so. In attributing some activities to Jesus’ human nature, and others to the divine nature, we have reified natures so as to give them personhood. For OPs, natures have all the attributes and carry out all of the functions of persons, but we dare not call them “persons.” Given the fact that natures are impersonal by definition, the distinction of activity and consciousness between the Father and Son cannot be explained by an appeal to natures. Only persons are capable of doing what we see the Father and Son doing in Scripture. Does this commit us to the Trinitarian view, then?
No. We can make sense of the distinction of activity and consciousness between the Father and Son if we understand the one divine person to be conscious of Himself in two distinct ways: as God in His cosmic mode of existence, and as man in His human mode of existence. On this construal, the divine and human natures are not the locus of activity, but rather the cause of activity. In His cosmic mode of existence, the one divine person functions according to His divine nature, causing/allowing Him to be conscious of Himself and act in a divine manner. But in His incarnate mode of existence, the one divine person functions according to His human nature, causing/allowing Him to be conscious of Himself and act in a human manner. In each case it is the person, not the nature, who acts. The distinction of natures simply allows the one divine person to be conscious of Himself, and act in two distinct modes simultaneously.
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