In addition to the many texts that we have discussed previously, there are other standard texts to which Oneness advocates will appeal in support of their position that God is unipersonal and that the Son merely refers to the humanity of Jesus –he was God the Father manifested in the flesh. I am attempting to touch on a number of those passages here.
Colossians 2:9 – For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.
One of the issues that you will frequently encounter with many is they will simply ignore the purpose for which the epistles were written. These are occasional writings – there was some issue, teaching, concern in the church that prompted the Apostle Paul to write to the church and those issues can be identified through a close examination of each epistle. In the letter to the Galatians, for example, it is pretty clear that Paul had great concern for false teachers coming into the church who sought to add to the gospel of faith certain works introducing a legalism that undermined grace.
By ignoring the purposes surrounding which the epistle was written it is easy to then misunderstand the meaning of passages written in the letter. They are taken out of the context in which they are written. To fully appreciate Paul’s purposes in explaining to the Colossians that in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, one need take into consideration the intent behind the letter and what was prompting the letter in the first place.
Colossians was written by Paul to address early Gnosticism that was coming into the church. Without delving too deeply into Gnosticism, it is sufficient to say that the Gnostics held to a strong dualistic theology that viewed that which is spiritual as good and that which is matter as evil. This dualistic view of spirit and matter led to the idea that the God could essentially have nothing to do with matter for to do so would be to lead to this God’s being responsible for evil. Thus, this highest form of God or the Monad who dwells in the Pleroma would have descended through various emanations or Aeons, which are deemed as being lesser gods until you find the demiurge or the lesser God that was responsible for the creation of evil matter. According to the gnostic view, only the demiurge or a lesser god could have been responsible for the creation of matter in light of the evil nature of matter itself. The one true God could not have been responsible for the creation of matter but creation only came about through these lesser manifestations of God. These views historically have been traced through to various Jewish influences that appear to have then infiltrated the Christian church.
One of the early heresies of the church flowed out of Gnosticism and that was Docetism or the belief that Jesus did not have a real physical body – Jesus only seemed to have a physical body but couldn’t have if he was believed to be God. This heresy actually crept into the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) during the 2000’s. More on that in another post.
David Bernard and other Oneness advocates cite to Colossians 2:9 as a go-to proof-text. As they tend to read the KJV, Oneness advocates will frequently refer to the term “godhead” as the KJV states, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” The term “godhead” simply refers to the all that makes up the nature and attributes of God. It is an old English variant of the word godhood. We can compare this word to some degree to the word childhood. We would define childhood as the state of being a child and encompassing all that goes into being a child – the nature and attributes of a child. Godhead or godhood, therefore, pertains to the divine nature, the essence or substance of God. Utilizing Trinitarian definitions, we would say that “godhead” refers to the ontological Trinity or the essence or substance of God and not to any individual person in the being of God. It is what makes God God – it is the divine nature.
In looking back at Colossians 2:9, what we find is a clear, unambiguous, and strong affirmation of the deity of Christ. In Christ, bodily, dwelt all the fullness of deity. All that makes God, God was in Christ bodily. Christ was not a lesser god. Christ was not a demiurge. Christ had both a physical body and in that body was veiled the fullness of all that is of God. Again, just as in the confession of Thomas, the passage is not Paul stating that Jesus was the Father but in Christ was the fullness of deity – the fullness of the divine nature. This is not a statement, per se, affirming Oneness theology but is a statement affirming the deity of Christ in the face of heretical teaching that had infiltrated the church in the form of Gnosticism. This passage is a simple statement as to the deity of Christ in face of false teaching that would lead some to believe that Jesus was some demigod or only seemed to come in bodily form but was truly only a spirit.
Consider for a moment the implications of either of these false teachings. To believe that Christ was merely some demigod introduces polytheism and is contrary to the strict monotheism of the Christian faith. But if Christ was not truly come in the flesh, how is it he was tempted in every point as we are and yet without sin, how is it he fulfilled the law, how is it that he made atonement for sins?
This passage does not teach that Jesus and the Father are one and the same person in the being of God. This is Oneness advocates, once again, presupposing the unipersonal nature of God and reading that into the text such that every time there is an affirmative statement concerning the deity of Christ in the text, Oneness advocates read that to mean that Jesus is the Father.
The context of the Colossians makes clear that the purpose of Paul’s writing was to affirm not only the deity of Jesus but his role in creation as well. “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and form him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17). The Oneness explanation of the role of Jesus in creation is that as the Father, he was the creator, and that the Father also created all things with the plan of Jesus the man in mind. Yet here we have Paul speaking of the Son of God as the image of the invisible God and that by him all things were created and that he is before all things and by him all things hold together.
Therefore, we should understand Colossians 2:9 in its proper context and be consistent in our approach to understanding the passage. In addressing the Gnostic ideas coming into the church, Paul strongly affirms both the deity of Jesus Christ as well as the role Jesus Christ played in the creation of all things. He was not only the creator all things but he was before all things and by him all things hold together. In him all the fullness of divine nature dwells – not some portion of God or some lesser god – but all the fullness of the essence of God was in Christ bodily. Nothing more and nothing less. Oneness advocates continue to read into this passage the notion that God is unipersonal, therefore, the Father was in Jesus. Yet, they don’t apply the same consistent reading to the role of Jesus, as distinguished from the Father, in creation.