Near the end of 2019, Oneness PhD candidate (if I recall correctly) and apologist G. Jorge Medina posted an 18-hour course on the Oneness of God on Vimeo. At that time, I asked if he would be willing to grant me access to the course (it costs $150) for review and response. I noted that I would summarize the Oneness arguments and, if I got around to responding to them, I would do so in a scholarly and charitable manner.
His response? He, or somebody else with access to his profile, deleted my comment.
I figured it was because I reminded him (as we had a brief exchange on one of David Bernard’s Facebook posts) that I’m former Oneness. I mean, I’m not really sure how that matters, especially when one states on their Facebook profile that they are an apologist, but that’s the only reason I could imagine.
I decided to post my request again without the mention of my former affiliation, and that one is gone too. Here’s what I said: “I’d like to discuss the possibility of reviewing this series for academic purposes. My CV is accessible on my website, and I am reachable by contact here [on Facebook] or there [on my website].” I took the screenshot the second time, but I doubt I’ll need to prove anything here.
Maybe I come off combative or something, but that’s certainly not my intention. I apologize if I sound that way. It’s not the first time I’ve been accused of this when I have reached out to Oneness scholars about my work, so I’m willing to admit there’s something I may need to change.
Anyway, I want to summarize and respond to the brief (5 minute or so) clip that introduces this series in the way that I had in mind. Perhaps this Oneness apologist will then accept my request and we can have some good dialogue in the future.
God’s Appearance to Abraham
In the clip, Mr. Medina mentions that some Trinitarians use the three men who appear to Abraham (in Genesis 18) as proof of the Trinity. One could see why: There’s three “men there”, and presumably this means that each of the divine Persons of the Trinity are simultaneously manifested. I don’t recall that I’ve ever heard this argument myself, but clearly it’s one that somebody could make.
Now, Mr. Medina points out that this supposed Trinitarian argument fails because it is the Lord (YHWH) alone who stays behind and speaks with Abraham (Genesis 18:22). If the three men were God, in the sense of Persons sharing the one divine nature, wouldn’t we expect to see all three men stay behind? But, alas, we don’t. We only see one who is called “Lord” who appears to Abraham, not three. So, the Trinitarian explanation here fails.
Some Competing Explanations
Since I don’t have access to the course I don’t know if this is the case, but Mr. Medina hasn’t responded to the strongest argument that somebody could give from Genesis 18.
According to John, and Jesus through John, nobody has ever seen the Father directly. This is the clear implication of texts like John 1:18; 5:37; and 6:46. In fact, John has Jesus explicitly say that “you people” have never seen God’s form or even heard his voice at any time (John 5:37). “You people” here is addressed to the Jewish leaders, but this is clearly a synecdoche (or a part standing in for the whole). If it weren’t a synecdoche, Jesus is stating something vacuously true about these Jewish leaders who weren’t even close to being around at the time of the Exodus. But clearly, John 5:37 stands at odds with other explicit statements in that all-important Oneness book: Deuteronomy. For it is here we repeatedly read Moses saying that the people heard God’s voice from the midst of the fire but didn’t see his image (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:12).
No Oneness writer has adequately addressed this problem, that I can find. Instead, they simply say that God, the Father of Jesus Christ, really was seen in the Old Testament. See Bernard’s discussion of “theophanies” in The Oneness of God, 34-35 (and following). Bernard’s explanation only seems to be that God is invisible, and therefore can’t be seen by definition, unless he so chooses to be seen. My problem with this, however, is that it makes those statements in John a bit misleading. They are then saying something like, “No one has seen God (i.e., the Father) at any time except, you know, when he was seen.”
Somebody has to do better than this; John explicitly says God (the Father) was not seen, but the Old Testament says he was seen. Somebody has to step in and nuance this so we can avoid the apparent contradiction. Sounds like something a Oneness apologist like Mr. Medina might consider working on.
Until then, here’s the argument. Notice that if it’s correct that the Father wasn’t seen in the Old Testament, and if the “Lord” was seen by Abraham, that’s simply not the Father nor his “form.” This is a straightforward way to read Scripture.
This by itself shows that what I’ve called “standard” Oneness models, in which God is both Father and Son in the same segment of God’s life are false. This then pushes us to a kind of “modified” Oneness view in which God live’s out his life as the Son in a distinct life-segment prior to the Incarnation. This would preserve Oneness and yet have it that the subject of the Father wasn’t seen. See chapter 4 of my master’s thesis for an explanation of the “standard” vs. “modified” Oneness distinction. I’ve also written a post on how a modified Oneness view might “work.” (Edit: I have now written a post explaining the distinction as well.)
So notice what I’ve said: Some form of Oneness could be true even if the Father wasn’t seen in the Old Testament. This requires a robust understanding of what “modes” or “manifestations” are, and it requires that one of those modes (that of the Son) began prior to the Incarnation. I think standard Oneness views are an overall bad explanation of Scripture; modified views are more serious contender, but not without their own issues a serious costs.
What we could go on to discuss, however, are the Trinitarian and Arian views that compete with the modified Oneness view I’ve offered. It’s clear to me that these views have at least as much confluence, explanatory scope, and explanatory power as the modified Oneness view when it comes to theophanies. And it’s also arguable they don’t suffer from the same plausibility, ad hoc-ness issues, and disconfirmation that the modified Oneness view might. For an explanation of these explanatory criteria, see chapter 1 of my thesis and a brief explanation of them in my response to David Bernard on Revelation 3:21.
So I’m a former Oneness Pentecostal. So what? An apologist like Mr. Medina should neither shy away from, nor deliberately suppress, comments that I’ve made. The above is how I’d go about reviewing (and responding to) the entire series on Oneness that Mr. Medina has produced. It should hopefully be clear that I’d like to have a substantive, academic discussion about these things. I’m not a heckler, nor self-styled apologist, nor rowdy teenager who de-converted. I’m a published author who wants to have a discussion. But it takes two to make that happen.