The other day I received a message from a supporter of Clifton LeJeune (A modalist preacher in Louisiana who denies the Trinity, says you must speak in tongues as evidence of your salvation and you must be baptized in the name of Jesus by immersion in order to be saved). Generally, I respond to these messages quickly then move on. But I thought it would be helpful for future discussions to write this out in more detail. Additionally, I thought it would be helpful to anyone who may think “They’re opinions were just as legitimate as anyone else’s”.
The verse I was referred to surprisingly was:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
(John 1:1 ESV)
The point the person was trying to show with this verse was that God is not three distinct persons but one person who has always been. Classical Christianity however, has always interpreted this verse as speaking of two distinct persons.
They understand this verse as saying “in the beginning the Word (the Logos) was in the mind and concept of God and was not a person but in the plan and in the mind of Almighty God for a future manifestation” – Dr Nathaniel Ursine, General Superintendent, United Pentecostal Church International
There are two problems with this understanding. The first is grammatical and the second is contextual (meaning they haven’t looked at the verses surrounding the passage).
First I’d like to address the grammatical problem. In the verse in question the Greek word pros is used when speaking of the Word(“The word was with God”). Literally this should be understood as “face to face with”. Someone isn’t face to face with a concept or an abstraction but a person. This isn’t to be a bore or bring the conversation to a level of grammar that it becomes uninteresting but a proper understanding of prepositions is vital in properly understanding Scripture. Another reason one ought to study the original languages if one plans to preach or teach.
One can easily cross reference other writings from the same author (John) where in his first epistle where he writes
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us”
(1 John 1:1–2 ESV)
You can see here very quickly that the Word is with the Father. And here, the word used is pros again. It is being used to show someone who is standing in apposition to the Father. The prepositions alone can be used to argue for an individual who is being spoken of.
The Oneness response is that what they handled “was the flesh of Jesus. And that flesh was not with God in the beginning” – Robert Sabin, President and Professor, Apostolic Bible Institute of St. Paul, Minnesota.
This leads to the second problem they have run into and that is the context. The second verse when speaking to the Word uses masculine pronouns translated as “he”.
“He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
(John 1:2–3 ESV)
The response to this is that God made everything with Christ in view in regards to the future manifestation of himself. At this point everyone just says to themselves “what?” Here is becomes obvious that the heretics are having to bend over to try to make disappear what is plainly obvious. The proper conclusion should be that God the Son was with the Father eternally and was never created.
The modalist preachers however, do not have solid theology so what they lack in content they make up with passion and excitement. Listen to their preaching and you’ll see the heavy emphasis of emotions, hootin’ and hollerin’ to get people all jazzed up. For those who do not come away with a proper Trinitarian understanding in this passage they end up with big problems. The solution to the problem is the Trinity. The Trinity is not the problem.