God's Oneness Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about God's Oneness

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God's oneness in Scripture and Christian tradition consists especially of three things: there is "one God, the Father" (1 Cor. 8:6); there is fourth-gospel oneness exhibited by the Father and the Son who are "in" each other and "one" with each other (John 17:20-22), united by their mutual will, work, word, knowledge, love, and glory; there is one Holy Trinity (Augustine, De Trinitate, 5. 8. 9) in which two of the members (Father and Son) possess a quasi-genetic family relation to each other.

In Scripture

Lord Alone "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone" (Deut. 6:4).

No Other Savior "Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior" (Isa. 43:10, 11).

The First and the Last "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god" (Isa. 44:6).

You Know No God but Me "Yet I have been the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior" (Hos. 13:4).

King Over All the Earth "And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one" (Zech. 14:9).

One Father "Call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father — the one in heaven" (Matt. 23:9).

Besides Him There Is No Other "Then the scribe said to him, `You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that "he is one, and besides him there is no other."'" (Mark 12:32).

"The Father and I are one" (John 10:30).

We Are One "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one" (John 17:20-22).

No Idol "We know that `no idol in the world really exists,' and that `there is no God but one.' Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as in fact there are many gods and many lords — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (1 Cor. 8:4-6).

"One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all" (Eph. 4:5, 6).

"There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human" (1 Tim. 2:5).

Even the Demons Believe "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder" (James 2:19).

Points to Ponder

What do Christians mean when they say they believe in "one God"? At least three things. First, there are contexts in which by "God" one means the Father. This is a deep and usual New Testament use, especially characteristic of the "one God" texts that reflect Deuteronomy's Shema ("Hear, O Israel . . ." in 6:4) and the general prophetic tradition of exclusive monotheism (e.g., in Isa. 43 and 44 above). When the Shema is heard in the New Testament, the one God is either directly or indirectly identified as the Father. This identification occurs indirectly when in Mark 12:29 and John 17:3 Jesus is identified as the "Son of Man," or the Son absolutely, over against this one God. And it occurs directly in 1 Corinthians 8:6 where Paul identifies the one God with the Father and distinguishes him from the one Lord, who is Jesus Christ. Following this biblical use, there is an old Christian habit of assigning some priority for the use of "God" to the first of the three trinitarian persons. This is, for example, the only way "God" is used in the Apostles' Creed. By the time of the Reformation, John Calvin has in mind the whole Latin tradition of the Father as "the fount of Divinity" when he suggests that "the name of God is peculiarly applied to the Father." The tradition may also be found in Augustine's De Trinitate 4. 20. 29 and in Thomas Aquinas's, Summa Theologica, 1. q. 33, arts. 1-3.

A second use that is likewise entirely traditional is the use of "God" for the divine substance or essence, possessed wholly by the three divine persons. God's essence is God's God-ness, or Godhood, the group of properties (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience, supreme holiness, perfect goodness, perfect justness, and so on) that are severally necessary and jointly sufficient for a Trinitarian person to be divine. So Calvin: "When we profess to believe in one God, under the name of God is understood a single, simple essence in which we comprehend three persons" . Father, Son, and Spirit are each and all divine. When one says "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God," "God" means "wholly divine." One uses "God" as a predicate adjective.

Third, the 16th verse of the Athanasian Creed presents another appropriate use of "God." Once more, if the author is as much of an Augustinian as is usually thought, the relevant source for interpreting him is Book 5 of the De Trinitate where Augustine clearly uses "God" not for the Father, as he did here and there in Book 4 (where the preexistent Son of God is in view); nor only for the divine essence; but also for the Trinity. He says this: "For as the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, which no one doubts to be said in respect to substance, yet we do not say that the very supreme Trinity itself is three Gods, but one God." The claim that "the Trinity is one God" appears a number of times in 5. 8-11. In this case, the name "God" would be a common or, better, a communitarian term that is applied first of all to the divine community as such and then to the three distinct members of that same community. Inside it, the Father is metaphysically underived, but the Son derives from the Father, not in time but in some mysterious, quasi-genetic respect that makes it appropriate to call the first person "the Father" and the second person "the Son." Meanwhile it appears that the Holy Spirit is not a family member but the agent of the Father and the Son.

Overall, we may conclude that there are three divine persons, but only one Father and only one divine essence and only one Trinity or divine society.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.