How the Trinity Makes Salvation Possible
Psalm 110, The Book of Hebrews, and the Oneness Position
The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool."
The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."
The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head. (Psalm 110:4)
This psalm has tremendous implications for the doctrine of the Trinity, and especially for the doctrine of Christ as our Mediator with God. As it is quoted in Hebrews twice in establishing the superiority of Christ, it is a natural place to begin when looking at Christ’s role as our Mediator.
Look at verse 1. Note here that the LORD, Yahweh, is addressing the king here. The cross-reference in Hebrews 1:13 makes plain that this statement is ultimately directed to Christ.
This raises two practical questions for those holding to Oneness theology – that is, those who believe Father, Son, and Spirit are not Persons but merely modes or manifestations of one divine Person:
(1) How can God address God, if He is not a Trinity? Would this not be rather schizophrenic? Now the Bible has plenty of references to Jesus addressing the Father, and speaking of (or sending) the Spirit. A Oneness advocate could explain these as Jesus’ human nature addressing his divine nature, but here in this passage that will not work. We have here the divine addressing Christ in a context that Hebrews clearly quotes to establish Jesus’ divinity. So this cannot be a case of addressing Jesus’ humanity alone.
(2) How can Jesus sit at the right hand of Yahweh if there are no interpersonal distinctions between the Father and the Son? In other words, if Jesus is Yahweh, how can he sit at his right hand in any meaningful sense? I can’t sit at my own right hand. And we’ve already seen that this cannot be a case of separating the divine from the human natures of Christ.
Let’s move on, then, to verse 4, also quoted in Hebrews (7:21). This raises the same question for Oneness adherents. Hebrews clearly states that Jesus was made a priest without an oath, like the old priesthood was – the meaning here is that the old Jewish priests took an oath. Instead, Jesus was made a priest by the one who “swore and will not change” his mind – God. Hebrews’ entire point in 7:21 rests on that fact that one Person (Jesus) made no oath, because another Person (God: meaning, Trinitarians believe, the Father) made the oath. How is this possible, if there are no personal differentiations within God? If they are one and the same in every respect, the argument falls apart!
We’ve already debunked the idea that God could be addressing Jesus’ human nature, because the context of Hebrews 1 was concerned with asserting hisdivinity (the Hebrews being addressed had no problem with Jesus’ humanity). However, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, the Oneness position (not adopted by all Oneness believers, it should be noted) that God is addressing the human nature of Jesus here. Jesus Christ is then our mediator only in hishuman nature, not his divine nature. This has several devastating implications for Christian theology:
First, it means that the one Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5) is Jesus in his human nature alone. He does not, in fact, partake of both natures. This removes a key plank in Hebrews’ case for the uniqueness of Christ as our mediator. After all, Moses, another covenantal mediator between God and man, was only human;
Second, it means that Christ’s ministry as high priest in the heavens (which rests on this foundation) is only as a human being and not as God. This is plainly impossible, because Christ as high priest offers himself as a sacrifice for our sins (7:27), and only a person who is infinite God could bear the full penalty for all he saves;
Third, it means our salvation is not fully “from the Lord” as Jonah 2:9 tells us, as a critical part of the economy of salvation is accomplished by human nature alone;
Finally, it means that “the power of an indestructible life” that is the reason he became a priest must be something inherent to Jesus’ human nature alone. Therefore, perfect living is possible by human effort without contribution from God, a deeply Pelagian idea. (This, by the way, would account for the Oneness priority on human living as an active contribution to one’s salvation).
Next week, God willing, I’ll close out this series on Oneness Pentecostalism by looking more closely at Hebrews 7:25 and its implications for our argument.