While this topic is entirely too big to wrap into a single blog post, it is something we have had several requests to write about and this will be a summary of what the doctrine of Modalism is. Modalism is also known as Modalistic Monarchianism or Sabellianism and that is the root theology/doctrine that formed the modern term used by modalistic organizations: Oneness.

At the core, Oneness is the abstract rejection of the triune nature of God, known today as the Trinity. Oneness people are proudly anti-Trinitarian and make the same claim as the historic church does – that believing the other doctrine is heretical. In other words, to a Oneness believer, those who believe the Trinity doctrine are heretics, and Trinitarians view followers of Sebbelianism/Modalism to be heretics.


Modalism – The most basic definition of Modalism is that God appeared to humanity in different modes, such as a persona or avatar at different times that are not manifested simultaneously and that each manifestation is not distinct or a co-existent person. That is to say that the first mode of God was the Father in the Old Testament. God came to earth as Jesus (Son) in the New Testament, and after Christ’ ascension, God came to humankind in the Holy Spirit.

At the core of Modalism is the belief that God (spirit) evidenced or manifested himself as Father in Creation, Son in Redemption and Spirit in Action (Book of Acts). Sabellius, as discovered through few extant writings, and mostly by that of his detractors, taught that the three modes of God were never existent at the same time.

That last idea is easily disputed in Scripture, yet it was taught nonetheless. This came from Sabellius being unable to accept the Triad or triune nature of the Godhead because he (from the writings of his opponents and Church writings of his excommunication) felt the Trinitarian view was attempting to teach Tritheism, or that there were three Gods.

This idea still remains true today in Oneness churches, such as Apostolic Pentecostal circles where they teach that Trinitarian believers are teaching a tritheistic doctrine, that there are Three Gods, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Yet, when you speak to Trinitarians, they repeatedly teach One God, in Three Persons.

Sabellius was a 3rd-century theologian who was excommunicated from the church at large, who took his teachings from Noetus and Praxeus. As at the time of Sabellius’ excommunication, historical and orthodox Christianity then and now considers Modalism in all of its forms a heresy.

The two extreme heresies of the time were Arianism and Sabellianism. Arianism was the doctrine of Arius, who taught that Jesus was a created being by God the Father and was thus, inferior to God. Sabellianism taught that Jesus was just the manifestation of God, after the manifestation of the Father and who became manifest in the Holy Spirit, denying individual personhood to each mode.

trinityLike Sabellius, modern-day Oneness Pentecostals were essentially excommunicated and ejected from their religious housing. It was in 1913 that the modern phenomena of Modalism began again at the Arroyo Seco World Wide Camp Meeting near Los Angeles. There, Canadian evangelist R. E. McAlister began baptizing people in the name of Jesus Only, directly refuting the practice of baptizing in the ‘Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’. That same night, another minister named John G Schaeppe had a private ‘vision’ of Jesus and affirmed the revelation of Jesus Only Baptism.

From there, supporters began requiring anyone who was born in the titles Father, Son and Holy Ghost to rebaptized in Jesus Name, which is still taught in Oneness Pentecostal churches. Their term for the triune version of baptism is, ‘just getting wet’.

Three years later as this dogma began to spread, at the General Council of the Assemblies of God in St. Louis Missouri, the Oneness camp of ministers were told to either accept the Trinitarian views of the Godhead or to leave. Nearly 1/4 of all licensed ministers at the time split from the Assemblies of God denomination and started what we now know as Oneness Pentecostalism, the largest organization being the United Pentecostal Church, International.

Oneness Pentecostalism teaches that the Son is an office that had a beginning, and will have an ending, known as the Sonship. That the Father is God, Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God, and they are all faces of the same God, not distinct persons. The modalist teaching causes the belief that when Jesus prays to the father, it is Himself (God) acting as flesh praying to himself, acting as God.

The glaring error of Sabellianism is that it taught that the three modes of God, which are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were never simultaneously existent, but this does not explain how all three were represented at Jesus’ baptism.

Mat 3:16  And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: Mat 3:17  And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.


At the baptism of Jesus, the Son was in operation, and the Father spoke from heaven while a dove, representing the Spirit of God landed upon Jesus. All three modes of the Modalistic teachings were present, disputing the notion of Sabellianism that all three modes could not coexist.

Modern-day Oneness Pentecostal teachers explain this as the One God performing all three modes or roles at the same time, not that it was three persons of God in unity at the same time and place which is what the Trinitarian teachings would express.

Modalism must also teach verses such as 1 John 5:7 or Acts 7:55 as either misinterpreted by Trinitarians or that they meant to be seen as analogous, not literally.

1Jn 5:7  For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

Act_7:55  But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

Oneness teachers will say that the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost are not co-existent persons bearing record in heaven, but that their offices bear record through the ages. Or that when Stephen, at his stoning and just before death, saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God, it was analogous of Jesus being in a position of authority and power, not a literal being standing next to another being.

When Jesus cried out at his crucifixion, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) it was flesh speaking to the Spirit of God. This has the danger of looking like Dynamic Monarchianism, which teaches that Jesus was simply a human being at birth, that he was given god-like power at his baptism, but was then transformed back into nothing more than a human on the cross.

While it is true that the majority of Christendom declares Oneness (modalism) as heretical, it behooves all Christians to study for themselves both the historical records of doctrines and the Scriptural record. Both Modalism and Trinitarian doctrines are very hard for human minds to wrap their understanding around.

For instance, when we read Colossians 2:9 “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” we can’t fathom that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were inside the Son…and yet that is a misunderstanding at best. Commentaries point out that the meaning of the Godhead dwelling in him meant all the authority, power and presence of God was in Jesus Christ, who was God.


Our stance is that we find the argument rather semantical and closer to a divider of the brethren than most theological topics. I (the author) was once a part of the World Wide Godhead Symposium, which is a Facebook great, created by Oneness Pentecostals for the purpose of talking about the Oneness doctrines and debating Trinitarians. My stint in the group disgusted me because it wasn’t learning or studying, it was simply fighting over split hairs.

While knowing God and believing that He Is is critical, and believing that Jesus IS God and that he DID rise from the dead and ascend into Glory, He made it very clear what was the most important aspect of our faith and knowledge of Him;

Joh_13:34  A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

Mat 22:37  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
Mat 22:38  This is the first and great commandment.
Mat 22:39  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Mat 22:40  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jas_1:27  Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

The Oneness teacher will say that you cannot get any doctrine right if you are off on the Godhead (Oneness). Trinitarians declare that if you believe in Modalism you’ll spin off into all sorts of false doctrines. From this point on they will hate, judge, gnash and defy one another – all the while, the Work of Christ goes undone until the bickering ends.

Doctrine is important, paramount we might say – but what is the Greatest Commandment(s)? A theological debate, symposiums, and creeds, temples, and buildings, or hungry mouths, cold bodies, empty souls, and faith in action?

Posted by dividinghisword

I am the father of two, husband of one, and lover of Christ! I simply seek to spread the Word of God unadulterated, not filtered by denominational interpretation. I have a degree in Theology from Texas Bible College but more so I have His Word!


  1. So what are your personal thoughts! Are you more aligned with trinitarian views now, or do you see yourself between the 2 camps? I am former OP and find myself not fully being able to embrace trinity doctrine, but definitely find it compelling. I have just boiled it down to the fact that a perfect understanding of the godhead is not salvational. Believing that Jesus is God and died for my sins is. And both camps believe that.

    Liked by 1 person


    1. @Someone I very much like it in between the camps. I see the validity of both reasonings in Scripture, but as written in this article, I find the divisive fight sickening to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

      There is no commandment above believing that Jesus is God, that He was resurrected from the dead, that He ascended into Glory and that He is coming back again for his bride, the church.

      If we abide in Christ, I believe His spirit will guide us individually and corporately into all truth, and I also believe that some of that truth, the deeper things of God that we can’t explain or understand will be revealed to us in Glory. To spit and fight and divide over things we can’t wrap our understanding around does the Faith a disservice.

      I know there are those who will disagree and decree that taking a side is required for salvation, but I do not find that premise in Scripture and I would rather err on the side of caution, believing that God will reveal all things in the end to me.

      As Paul said,

      “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.” Romans 14:22

      God Bless,



  2. Hi Ralph

    Much agreement…

    “Both Modalism and Trinitarian doctrines
    are very hard for human minds
    to wrap their understanding around.”

    And neither word, Modalism, or Trinitarian,
    Is found in the Bible. Oy Vey!!! 🙂

    Don’t know much about “Oneness Pentecostals.”
    But, there are different ”Doctrines” of The Trinity.

    Whodda thunk… Different Christians…
    Who believe different stuff…
    About “The Trinity.”

    My… My… Tsk… Tsk… Whos gots the right “Doctrine?”

    Really like your conclusion…

    “Our stance is that we find the argument
    rather semantical and
    closer to a divider of the brethren
    than most theological topics.

    I liked when Anonymous asks…
    “…do you see yourself between the 2 camps?”

    And your answer…
    “I very much like it in between the camps.
    I see the validity of both reasonings in Scripture…”

    Hmmm? Between the camps?
    Interesting thoughts…

    Liked by 1 person


    1. Hi Amos!

      I was hoping you would stop by!

      What I mean by “I very much like it in between camps…” is that I am no longer judging peoples faith, salvation or worth based upon whether or not they believe the Oneness doctrine of the Trinitarian doctrine. I’ve decided to leave the judging up to God, who is the only one worthy and capable of judging us.



  3. I think both camps have questions that they can’t answer though neither camp I find will readily admit that. So at best, I can say that I may be more aligned with one side, but readily admit that there are things I simply cannot comprehend. If a trinitarian could explain the right hand of the father to me, or explain who/what they expect at the Bema, that would be helpful. Only one throne right? And the Father is a Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is a Spirit, do though God is 3, he will be visible in just one—Jesus? When I asked a friend, she mentioned she planned to see God and Jesus, and that just sat weird with me.

    Liked by 1 person


    1. Hi someone, you hit on some good elements of the confusion but it goes further. When Stephen was stoned in Acts 7, he said he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Oneness folks have tried to say that that mean ‘In the authority if God’ that doesn’t work with Scripture though, as that mention isn interchangable with The Father. The Bible says no one except Jesus has seen the Father, and that no living person can see the father until we are glorified, lending credence to separate beings. 1 John says there are three that bear record in Heaven, which would indicate three persons.

      Yet, in Revelation, Jesus says, ‘He that over comes will sit with me in MY throne, even as I overcame and sit in my father’s throne.

      Question is, one throne?



  4. Revelation 5:6-7 is another verse that gets me when it talks about the Lamb of God standing and then taking the book of life from Him that sat on the throne. What? Of course, oneness will say that isn’t literal. I actually attend a trinitarian church now. Left my oneness church After December of last year. When I do hear Godhead discussions there, it goes against my grain not because I believe it is heresy, but because I have heard it preached against for 30 years so still sounds so foreign. Hurts my brain when I listen to oneness and trinity debates! I’ve decided just to love Jesus and be comfortable not having ALL the answers. My name is LaTisha by the way 😊

    Liked by 1 person


    1. Excellent LaTish! The site was showing me ‘Someone’ commented on your post, so Someone was the only one I had to work with. Thank you.

      I am very much like you-I will focused on what Jesus told us was the greatest commandment, to Love Him and to love each other just the same as He did. James said if we bear one another’s burdens, we fulfill the Law of Christ.



  5. Ralph

    I was accused once of being a “Modilist”
    When debating some guys who did NOT believe…

    ”Jesus IS God.”

    And I had NEVER heard the word “Modilist” before…
    All I was doing was quoting some scripture…
    John 10:30, I and My Father are “ONE”
    1 Jo 5:7, …the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost:
    and these three are “ONE.”

    I always ”thought” I was a “Trinitarian.”
    That’s how I was raised and never questioned it, “The Trinity.”

    But, now, because of this debate…
    I begin doing my own research…
    About God, and Jesus, being ”ONE”…
    And found there are different…
    ”Doctrines” of The Trinity…

    Today when someone asks me…
    “Do you believe in The Trinity?”
    I gets a twinkle in my eye… 🙂
    And will ask…
    “Well, Which Trinity do you believe in?”

    And if you do NOT know the different “Trinity Doctrines?”
    How do you know your “Doctrine of The Trinity?”
    Is the correct one?

    You can get some strange looks. HaHaHa. 🙂

    Today, I do NOT call myself “Trinitarian” or “Modilist.”
    Too many questions, unanswered questions.
    And neither word is in the Bible.

    Neither camp wants pew peons asking too many questions…
    They can NOT answer…

    Both camps are happy, will accept you, when you willingly…
    Sit in the Pew, and Pray, Pay, Stay, and Obey.

    It’s difficult to remain in one of…
    “Today’s Corrupt Religious Systems”
    Unless you agree with them.

    Yes – Me too… When you write…
    “I’ve decided to leave the judging up to God,”



  6. Ralph

    I do like leaving it up to God to do the judging…
    But I also enjoy tuff questions, “to confound the wise.”

    Some call the “Chart” in your original post…
    “Shield of the Trinity,” to explain The Trinity.
    When “The Wise,” use this chart – I gots lots questions. 🙂
    I’ll be asking “Trinitarians” that use the “Chart.”

    Have some questions about your “Chart?” “Diagram?”
    I can find scriptures that say…

    (1) There is only one God.
    (2) The Father is God.
    (3) The Son is God.
    (4) The Holy Spirit is God.

    But have questions about the chart, when it says…
    (5) The Father is not the Son.
    ….. The Son is not the Father
    (6) The Son is the not the Holy Spirit.
    ….. The Holy Spirit is not the Son.
    (7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father.
    ….. The Father is not the Holy Spirit.

    Do you have any scriptures to show this? (5), (6), (7)?

    Here are some questions challenging #’s (5), (6), (7).

    Your #(7), says, “The Holy Spirit is NOT the Father.”
    1- But – Could the Holy Spirit be The Father of Jesus?

    Mat 1:18
    Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise:
    When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph,
    before they came together,
    she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

    Mat 1:20
    …for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

    Luke 1:35
    And the angel answered and said unto her,
    The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,
    … that holy thing which shall be born of thee
    shall be called the Son of God.

    Your #(5), says, “The Father is not the Son.”
    2- But – Could Jesus be the Everlasting Father in Isa 9:6?
    If NOT Jesus, who is Isa 9:6 referring to as…
    ”Everlasting Father?”

    Isaiah 9:6
    For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
    and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
    and his name shall be called
    Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God,
    ”The everlasting Father,” The Prince of Peace.

    Your #(5), says, “The Son is not the Father.”
    3 – Wasn’t John the Baptist preparing the way for…
    Jehovah our Father, our Redeemer, our Savior…
    And Jesus is the one who showed up?
    Couldn’t that mean, Jehovah = Jesus?

    John the Baptist only knew OT prophesy.
    And he was to prepare the way of Jehovah our Elohim.
    And Jesus showed up. Couldn’t that mean – Jehovah = Jesus?

    OT – Isaiah 40:3
    The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
    Prepare ye the way of the LORD, {Jehovah}
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Elohim)

    NT - Mat 3:3
    For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias,
    saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
    Prepare ye the way of the Lord…

    Wasn’t John the Baptist looking for Jehovah?
    And Jesus showe up? Jehovah = Jesus?

    In the OT, Jehovah, and Jehovah Elohim, is our Father.
    And Jehovah is NOT only our Father…
    Jehovah is also our Redeemer. Hmmm?
    Jehovah is also our Savior. Hmmm?

    If Jehovah is our Father, our Redeemer, our Savior…
    And Jesus showed up?
    Isn’t Jehovah our Father and Jesus, “ONE?”
    Didn’t Jesus say… I and My Father are “ONE?”

    Isa 43:11
    I, even I, am the LORD; {Jehovah}
    and beside me there is NO saviour.

    Isaiah 63:16
    …O LORD {Jehovah}, art our father, ** our redeemer;**
    thy name is from everlasting.

    Isaiah 64:8
    But now, O LORD, {Jehovah} thou [art] our father

    Hmmm? Questions? About this “Chart.” #’s (5), (6), (7).

    1 – Is The Holy Spirit ”The Father” of Jesus?
    2 – Is Jesus, the Son, called ”The Everlasting Father?”
    3 – If John the Baptist was preparing the way for
    Jehovah our elohim, our Father, our Redeemer, our Saviour…
    And Jesus showed up? Doesn’t Jesus = Jehovah?
    Isn’t Jehovah our Father, Our Redeemer and Jesus, “ONE?”

    And the list goes on, and on, and….

    Nah! the diagram needs to be “Reformed.”Or thrown out…

    I’m Blest…
    I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul…

    {{{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}}

    Liked by 1 person


    1. Excellent stuff! I probably should have clarified that the two diagrams in my posts is not something I approve or believe, it was simply there to illustrate what both cameras use as descriptors.

      I do believe Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, Jehovah. Scripture teaches that He and the Father are one, that Jesus is the image of the Invisible God.



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