Ron Rhodes and Oneness Pentecostals

Dr. Ron Rhodes

Ron Rhodes is president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries. I was recently given a link to some of his writings. Rhodes is a Trinitarian who styles himself as a cult apologists and has attempted to deal with the doctrines of Oneness Pentecostals. For the sake of this blog post we will be discussing his online article: "Is Jesus the Father and the Holy Spirit?" This article appeared in the CRI Journal in November, 2008.

Right away Rhodes obfuscates and puts on his Trinitarian lenses. He says, "Modalism first surfaced in the third century in the writings of Sabellius and Paul of Samosata." Really? Firstly, Rhodes does not mention the distinct differences between Sabellius and Paul of Samosata. There is a huge difference. The latter was a dynamic monarchian or one who believe that Jesus is Son of God by being adopted by God at some point in his earthly life. Sabellius was a modalistic monarchian who saw Jesus as a manifestation of the One God. During the third century conflict about the nature of Christ was coming to a head however it was not new to the third century. It was finally reaching a head in the third century.

Secondly, modalism did not "first surface" in the third century. This is simply an historical error on the part of Rhodes. Men like Zephyrinus, Noetus and Epigonus are claimed to be modalistic monarchians living during the second century. Sabellius himself only got started teaching around the beginning of the third century. We know little of Sabellius' early life but that doesn't mean his teachings originated in the third century. Thomas Finger noted, ""Early Christians, who referred to Jesus and the Holy Spirit in terms appropriate to God, were accused of being tritheists. In response theologians insisted on divine unity and explained it by means of three main models. Modalism emerged first."(1) It is the Trinitarian doctrine which emerged in later centuries and finally being hammered out in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Although Oneness Pentecostals have agreement with early writers like Sabellius it does not mean that they are consequently simple Sabellian modalists. In Christ God was not just an actor in a performance but has truly become Incarnate. God did not merely don a fleshly robe but "became flesh" (John 1:14) to reconcile the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). For Oneness Pentecostals God does not act successively as Father, Son and Holy Spirit but He acts simultaneously as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus is more than a mask or an actor. He is God Himself Incarnate.

Rhodes says that Oneness Pentecostals are "serial offenders" concerning fundamental rules of hermeneutics.

Illegitimate Preunderstandings: Here Rhodes has in mind presuppositions or opinions formed prior. No human being on earth can escape presuppositions. Not even the good Dr. Rhodes. From our birth several factors are included in our development and many opinions are formed along the way. The problem is not in having them necessarily but in having them when they are not valid. Oneness Pentecostals do reject the Trinity so it should be no surprise that they do not read the Scriptures as Trinitarians. Trinitarians do the same thing. Trinitarians and Oneness Pentecostals alike must examine their presuppositions in light of Scripture. Here Rhodes is only complaining, building a strawman and not telling us anything we do not know.

Inappropriately Cross-Referencing Verses: Trinitarians and Oneness Pentecostals reference Scripture with Scripture. Oneness Pentecostals firmly believe that Scripture interprets Scripture as well. Rhodes mentions the fact that Luther also said "Scripture is its own expositor." There is no disagreement there. Just because someone, anyone, can abuse cross referencing does not make Oneness or even Trinitarianism wrong. Again, Rhodes tell us nothing new and has yet to show how Oneness Pentecostals actually interpret or exegete certain passages incorrectly.

Not Interpreting Difficult Verses in Light of Clear Verses: In this section Rhodes reveals his own incorrect presupposition. Rhodes saying it is so does not make it so. No matter how many times he simply repeats his opinion in this article. He never shows how Oneness Pentecostals do this but simply says they do when they reference Matthew 28:19 with Acts 2:38. One need only pick up a commentary or cross-referencing resource concerning either passage to see the two passages referenced together in some sense. Rhodes merely produces a canard. As if there is no reason that any student of the Bible would do so. As if it requires only Oneness Pentecostals to do that? Is that what you believe, Dr. Rhodes? He then lists verses showing the distinction between Jesus and the Father. As if Oneness Pentecostals do not know they exist or that they do not acknowledge them. Oneness do not claim to be identical to modalists although they hold similar views. The term "modalism" was given to those in the early church by Trinitarians who did not agree with them. Sadly, the only remains of their writings have only been preserved by the pen of those who wrote against them and therefore our judgement is limited concerning these writers.

Oneness Pentecostals believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each act, speak and are personal. God is  personal and therefore we should not be surprised. Because of this however we do not assume God is three distinct divine persons with their own center of consciousness. Oneness believe that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are necessary to God's plan of redemption for fallen humanity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit describe God's redemptive roles or works but not three separate or distinct persons in God. Even Satan is called father (John 8:44), son (2 Thess. 2:3-4), he is a spirit being and is even called "god" (2 Cor. 4:4). It does not follow that it means Satan is three different divine persons. Even Balaam's donkey can see and even speak but this in no way ensured that a donkey was after all a person (Numbers 22:27-28).

Ignoring Context: Here Rhodes once again writes as though Oneness Pentecostals do not understand that Jesus had an "other" experience with God. In the next post we shall see how it is Rhodes who has ignored the context of Matthew 28:19. Oneness Pentecostals understand the humility and prayers of Christ and interpret them in light of His humble life on earth. The New Testament clearly shows us that Jesus thought of God as other than Himself. This is a psychological distinction though and not a substantive one. Adam had a God who was "other" than himself and therefore it is no surprise to us that Jesus would also have an "other" experience. Jesus was not just God but He is God existing as a man. If the worlds fastest sprinter were to participate in a sac race with a youth group he would not stop being the sprinter. But he purposely limited himself to participate in the sac race. Jesus is not just God but He is God, body and soul. Because He was God existing as a real man this also enabled Him to pray and communicate with God.

Jesus uses "we" in John 14:23 and Trinitarians conclude this means more than one person. Jesus has defined the Holy Spirit though in that very chapter. Jesus said that it will be both the Father and the Son that would make their abode in our lives when we receive the Holy Spirit. If Jesus is speaking substantively here then the Jesus, before the eyes of them standing by, saw a human Jesus, a real man. Were they to imagine a physical Jesus entering their chest cavity? No. Because of the work of Calvary the Holy Spirit would be available to them in a different way, a different form perhaps. When we receive the Holy Spirit we receive the same Spirit of Christ. God is a personal spirit being. In the Bible we read of the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Son or the Holy Spirit but does this mean we have three distinct spirits? No. God has already revealed that there is only one Spirit (Eph. 4:4; 1 Cor. 12:11) and we are baptized by one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) and yet it is God Himself. It is not another spirit, being or person other than God.

Oneness Pentecostals do not deny that the Father is God, the Son is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God. We do not additionally conclude, as Trinitarians, that they are distinct persons in one being called God. Even at the Baptism of Christ (Matt. 3:16-17) no one leaves thinking of a Trinity or more than one divine person in the nature of the One God. If so, it was never spoken of or repeated until centuries later. If those who were present on that day did not see the Trinity how can Trinitarians do this today? It is only by what Dr. Rhodes called earlier: "Illegitimate Preunderstandings". That is to read the Baptism of Christ and other verses as a Trinitarian and not as one standing on the banks of the Jordan river.

Using Faulty Exegesis: In this section Rhodes appeals to Matthew 28:19 and takes time to examine it closer. In the following post we will look closer at this verse.


1. Finger, Thomas N. A contemporary Anabaptist theology : Biblical, historical, constructive. 2004 (409). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

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Adversus Trinitas

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