An Invitation and Response to Oneness Apologist G. Jorge Medina

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 vacuously true. They are then saying something like, “God cannot be seen except in the ways he can be seen.” Well, that’s not very informative, is it?

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. But I’ve also written a post on how a modified Oneness view might “work.”

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.

Conclusion

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.

2 thoughts on “An Invitation and Response to Oneness Apologist G. Jorge Medina”

  1. Hi Skylar,

    Even though I am no scholar (yet), on a marginal note, I find that it is difficult to engage in scholarly interaction with those who are engaged in popular apologetics. For instance, if I asked that I may do a scholarly exchange with Greg Koukl’s Calvinism, even if I have research interests in Calvinism, it seems to me that it is prima facie expected for a non-scholar to avoid scholarly debate with a scholar. I don’t consider Medina a scholar, and have never heard of him pursuing his doctorate (online and offline). Although, I apologize that you experience bad impressions from believers who share the same theological positions as I do (and as you have had).

    On your interesting challenges to prominent Oneness theological developments of God’s “image,” “form” or “invisibility.” I agree with your challenges. This is, however, why I urge Oneness proponents to take a classical approach to God’s invisibility. God is not visible. When Jacob says he has seen God’s face/form (Gen. 32:30), I do not take this metaphorically either. My explanation of this verse (and a majority of theophanic Old Testament passages) is that the appearances of “men” are representative celestial beings of YHWH (i.e. God’s angels) and that this connects to God’s revelation to Israel. This explanation of angelology is not ad hoc as other theories would present it since it relies heavily upon Old Testament divine council theology, which convincingly was held by the Old Testament prophets themselves. As for Abraham’s “seeing the Lord”– Abraham doesn’t say he “sees the Lord,” there is only mention of him seeing the appearance of three “men” (I prima facie take these to be angelic representatives) and speaking with YHWH.

    Hopefully I do not sound combative either, just giving you another Oneness perspective. I am interested in your “modified” Oneness model of Father & Son. Its “ad hoc-ness” may not be much of a big deal, since modern Trinitarian models (like Craig and Moreland’s Trinity Monotheism) have an “ad hoc-ness” to the issues Social Trinitarianism faces viz. philosophically explaining three personhood in one being.

    Looking forward to your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi A.J.,

      I don’t think your comments sound combative at all, so no worries there. In what follows I don’t mean to sound this way either.

      You mention the “classical approach to God’s invisibility” and that you take most of the OT theophanies to be representative celestial beings. I’m still working through this material, but I have two issues with this for now. First, “classical” in what sense? I think it’s clear that at least by Justin Martyr (who anybody would have a hard time arguing made up this stuff) the visible YHWH in the Old Testament is the Son of God.

      That seems pretty classical to me, and in fact pushes me toward the view that earliest Christianity just was a “two powers in heaven” heresy (so called by later rabbinic Jews, of course). I think if we pay attention to Justin’s talk of “powers” in Dialogue Against Trypho 128, it sure seems like Trypho is a “one power” guy, and Justin is defending Christianity as a “two powers” view. If Christianity started out as a “one power” view, I find it hard to understand how we have this sort of discussion by Justin’s time, as that seems historically improbable.

      Second, there’s just no indication in many of the theophanies, especially those appearances to the patriarchs like the one discussed in this post, that we are dealing with just a representative called “the Lord” at all. I could see a standard Oneness view pushing somebody this way, but that’s ad hoc even on a divine council view of the OT for precisely the reason I’ve said. One’s got to postulate this without clear textual warrant.

      Also, that Abraham doesn’t call him the “Lord” in the passage seems irrelevant to me. This “man” is explicitly called this by the narrator. The narrator also, perhaps, implicitly acknowledges this by the fact that Abraham barters with him to save Sodom. That more clearly fits with the idea that this really was YHWH appearing to him, rather than some representative celestial being whom neither the narrator, nor Abraham, addresses or treats as such.

      We could talk a lot more about this stuff, but I don’t have a clue how a standard Oneness view fits with texts like Exodus 24:9-11 at all. Appealing to a representative celestial being doesn’t work there. And even seeing a part of him counts as seeing him. At least there’s some account of this on a modified view.

      I’m glad you find the “modified” Oneness view I propose interesting. To be honest, it does a way better job, in my estimation, with “distinction” passages and the issue in this post. I do think that talking about what counts as ad hoc or not is worth discussing more too, and I might need to get a little clearer there. Let me put it like this: An explanation is ad hoc to the extent that it requires additional suppositions to “work” as an explanation.

      Craig offers “Trinity Monotheism” as a model in order to answer objections against social Trinitarian views (from Trinitarians themselves, no less). Simply offering a model to answer objections isn’t what makes something ad hoc; it’s the additional suppositions that do. I’d have to look more closely, but I’m not sure Trinity Monotheism is an apt comparison, since he’s using concepts that some Trinitarians will largely agree with.

      That isn’t the same as adopting a modified Oneness view. Such a view is clearly ad hoc because of the suppositions we’d have to introduce for its metaphysical story to work at all. At least if one takes the route I suggest, this means adopting all kinds of stuff from Leftow, such as time travel being possible (or even just possible for God) and a Lockean account of personhood.

      If Oneness Pentecostals start to go the modified route, they have to give up even more of the standard rhetoric against Trinitarianism that’s existed in the movement from the beginning. No longer can they consistently cry out against “Trinity” and hypostases and ousia and homoousios as non-biblical terminology and as concepts inconsistent with the Bible. For they themselves would then be appealing to concepts conceived of over a millennium after the apostles, and for which the apostles’ don’t even have terms in their original languages.

      I appreciate your thoughtful response, and I wish I had more Oneness friends to discuss these ideas with when I was still a part of the movement. I’m open to talking more about this in other mediums if you’re interested and you have time. Just drop me a line through my contact page sometime.

      Liked by 1 person

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