Oneness: Jesus is a “Super-Being” Theology
What was it that I had been learning during those days? What was it that was so compelling that it led me from Oneness to embrace the One God the Father and Jesus as the Messiah of God that I celebrate today? I was discovering some very fundamental/systemic problems with the Oneness Pentecostal view that Jesus is God. I began to realize that in that view, I really did not have a clear understanding of the one who alone truly is God. And, interestingly enough, my Oneness views had also caused someone else to be lost to my faith: That someone was the “real” man Jesus, the Messiah. During those years, I began to realize that it is not possible to proclaim that Jesus is God or that God is Jesus without effectively losing much about both of them.
It is an ironic tragedy of theology and faith that the determination to make Jesus a “super-being” ultimately demeans him. The Oneness view takes a similar perspective to the Trinity and other “super-being” theologies and in the process declares the man Jesus to be the flesh part or simply a robe of flesh that God took upon himself. This corresponds to the unfortunate Trinitarian view of Jesus having an “impersonal human nature” (anhypostasia).
We do not devalue Jesus Christ by recognizing him for who and what he really is: the true – sinless – virginally begotten – human son of God. It is “super-being” theologies that devastate the man Christ Jesus by often making him less than those he saves. Can you imagine the angel saying to Mary: “And you shall conceive in your womb and bring forth an impersonal human nature”? Or, can you picture Gabriel saying to her: “you will bring forth a robe of flesh for God to wear”? The awkward augmentation in the non-scriptural phrase “fully man” highlights a telling weakness in “super-being” theologies. Those in the Bible who genuinely believed that he was a man found it quite sufficient to say: “Jesus Christ a man” (Acts 2:22, 13:38).
I began to realize that in all of the “super-being” theologies, Jesus loses the honor that is rightly his as the only begotten human son of God. Oddly, any theology that makes Jesus more than God’s human son diminishes the glory of the “man” Christ Jesus. That is the glory that he should receive as a “true” human being for trusting and obeying God and setting the matter of our disobedience aright. The man Christ Jesus deserves the credit for undoing what Adam did against us. When people say that Jesus “had to be God” or a pre-existent “angel” or “angel-like” being to purchase our salvation – we are saying that the only begotten son of God – the man Jesus was not good enough. In Oneness theology degradation of the son of God begins with his being theologically reduced to a “body of flesh.” This depravity often finds its ultimate sting in the thought that in the end, the son, will be the “no longer needed part” that will be done away with.[ 6] Imagine that the one that died so that we could have unending life will himself not enjoy an unending life. He, being “no longer needed,” will be dispatched into non-existence.
And yet the theological tragedy goes on. In “super-being” theologies such as Oneness, Binitarianism, Trinitarianism and Arianism, God loses the glory that is due him. Think of all that he did for and through the man Christ Jesus. It was God who caused him to be conceived. It was God who nurtured Jesus and blessed him so that he might become the savior of the rest of us. It was God who answered his prayers and empowered him to do all that he did. It was God who raised him from the dead and set him at his own right hand. It was God who had the plans for all of these amazing things – from before all time. God deserves all of the glory for what he has accomplished for us through the man Christ Jesus. When we say that Jesus himself did these things because “he” was God or some form of “super-being” – we have robbed God himself of glory due only him.
Oneness and other “super-being” ideologies are all theological paradigms that perpetuate this terrible diminishing of the man Christ Jesus while at the same time robbing his Father of glory: the same Father whom Jesus describes in John 17:3 as “the only true God.” Clearly, it did not take a “God-man” to accomplish the work of salvation. Rather it took God and a man – his only begotten son. It did not take an “angel-man” to bring humanity hope. It took God and his true human son to bring grace to human beings.
These realizations are the kinds of things that were amazing me as I sat in those Oneness meetings so many years ago. God by his kindness was changing me forever. I now found myself loving and honoring his son in ways I had never done before and honoring God with a clarity which I had been missing.
Finding the “Lost Verses” of Acts the Second Chapter
Allow me to share with you a key passage that reshaped my thinking in those days. Interestingly enough, the passage is from the second chapter of the Book of Acts. I say interestingly because this was a favored passage in my Oneness Pentecostal theology. Most Oneness children know Acts 2:1-4. It is that passage which brings to us the mighty and wonderful account of the receiving of the spirit by the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Likewise, every Oneness person can relate to Peter’s quoting the amazing prophecy of Joel and those incredible words in Acts 2:16: “This is that!” Even as a young child, I was readily able to quote Act 2:38: “Then Peter said to them…”
However, sitting in my Oneness church in the 1970s, I began to realize something odd about our reading and expositions of the second chapter of Acts. It dawned on me that between Peter’s completing of his quotation of Joel in verse 21, and the remarks of the crowd (v. 37) – which prompted his landmark directives in verse 38, that for us as Oneness people there was somewhat of a theological “black hole.”
I have often tried to recall if I had ever heard even one sermon text taken from any of the verses found from Acts 2:22 through Acts 2:36. Somehow those 15 verses tend to be rather absent from mainline Oneness thought and preaching. Sitting in church in those days, I began to rediscover the 15 “missing verses” of Acts the second chapter. Suddenly they had a profound influence on my faith. I found myself reading them again and again.
It also became evident to me why as Oneness people we had not been drawn to that part of the 2nd chapter of Acts. The things said in those verses were at the least confusing for the Oneness mindset and in actuality devastating to our entire way of thinking about God and Jesus. I also find in those verses the virtual dismantling of Trinitarianism and other “super-being” theologies.
It has been well said by Oneness people that everyone should read Acts. In fact there is an old song in Oneness circles that says, “In Acts the second chapter – you can read it for yourself – you won’t have to ask anybody else.” I agree. In fact, I think that the entire Book of Acts is a gift of God for testing our theological ideas. Acts is rather much a “laboratory” in which we can put our theological views on trial. Here, we can set our thoughts along side actual “in the field” teachings and activities of the first Christians. What did their message sound like? What did their faith look like in action? Do our theological ideas match what they actually said and did? If not, then we should revisit our theologies. That is what I began to do. I laid my Oneness theology down along side those 15 “Middle-Acts 2” verses. I found that it failed the test of the laboratory of Acts. Let me highlight some key “lost” verses from “Middle-Acts 2.”
Lost Verse No. 1: Acts 2:22 – “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know.”
This verse brings us two amazing statements, neither of which was congruent with my Oneness Pentecostal teachings. 1st – Jesus is announced to be “a man.” This is hardly the declaration that I as a Oneness person would have expected Peter to be making to those Jews gathered together from “every nation under heaven.” It seems inescapable to me that if Peter was Oneness, the proclamation would needed to have been: “Men of Israel, Jesus was your God – come down to you in human flesh!” Or, at the very least: “he was the God-man.” Peter’s announcement – “Jesus, a man attested by God” was both accurate and sufficient. Those words launched the apostle’s exposition on that day.