In Matt 28:19, Jesus commissioned the disciples to baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Then 50 days later Peter commanded the crowd to be baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38). This leads me to believe Peter recognized the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be the same as Jesus. I cannot quote the year or volume, but I remember reading a quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia that the Catholic church changed their stand on the proper form of baptism from Jesus' name to the trinitarian formula. I am comfortable with the trinitarian formula. In pertaining to a three person Godhead, does it not seem more likely that God is one entity and the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are titles we give the different ways we perceive God, much like we perceive air?
The early church rejected the theological teaching of a few individuals who claimed that God played the role of the Father sometimes, the Son on other occasions, and the Holy Spirit still at other times. This teaching has been called Modal Monarchism or Modalistic Monarchism. Is Jesus the Father and the Holy Spirit? It is clear from several examples in Scripture that this teaching is false.
Teaching of Modalistic Monarchism
Modalistic Monarchianism was a heresy that was taught in the second and third centuries A.D. A brief history of this heresy is given by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue. They state,
Modalistic Monarchianism (Modalism, Sabellianism, and Parripassianism) taught that the Father and the Son are one and the same. God is called Father or Son according to the figure of the times. Born of a virgin, he is called Son; to those who believed in him, he revealed that he was the Father. The one God was metamorphosed in external form according to the need of the moment. In other words, there is only one God who presents himself in various forms (Father, Son, or Spirit) as he wishes. In this heresy, these forms are modes of manifestation, not modes of being.
That is, the teaching of Modalistic Monarchianism states God is like an actor who plays the role of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit at different times.
Error of Modalistic Monarchism
The error of Modalistic Monarchianism is revealed by the fact that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all appeared simultaneously at the baptism of Christ. The baptism of Jesus Christ is one of the best examples that shows the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not the same. For example, during Jesus’ baptism, God the Father was speaking from heaven as the Holy Spirit was descending while Jesus was being immersed into the Jordan River (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-22).
After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17 (NASB)
Simultaneously, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit appeared. That reveals God is not an actor playing different roles. Yet, this does not mean there are three gods because Scripture teaches that God is one. God is a trinity. Visit “Was Jesus God in the Old Testament?” for a study about the trinity.
Three important examples can be found in the gospel of John that refute the heresy of Modalistic Monarchianism. The first example is found in John 12:27-29. The Triumphal Entry of Christ has just occurred and the Father speaks from heaven while Jesus is on the earth. The second example occurs when both the Father and the Son sent the Spirit into the world (John 14:26; 15:26). If God is an actor, why would both need to send the Spirit into the world? The third example is Christ’s high priestly prayer to the Father in John 17. If God is an actor, why would He pray to Himself?
Modalistic Monarchianism is a false doctrine. It is heresy. Scripture teaches that God is one and also a trinity. Because this mystery of our trinitarian God is taught in the Word of God, we need to by faith embrace it as truth. For more information visit the link below.
1. MacArthur & Mayhue. Early History of Theological Development. Biblical Doctrine. Crossway. 2017. p. 208-209.
Suggested Links:Who Is God? – trinity, and His attributes
Jesus Our Savior – God-man, death, resurrection, and ascension
The Holy Spirit – Discipleship Series
If God is one, why is He divided into three?
Can I be saved and never be baptized? — Mark 16:16
Do you believe that baptism is a part of salvation?
Was Jesus God in the Old Testament? – The Trinity
The Trinity – The Plural One
Mystery of the Trinity, part 1— Father, Son, and Spirit
Mystery of the Trinity, part 2 — Father, Son, and Spirit