Even early Jewish belief did not totally reject the concept of a Bi-personal or Binitarian God. Here is a striking admission:
"If, then, we find that, without abandoning his dominant monotheism, the pious Jew was prepared to admit a divine Being distinguishable in name and function from Jahweh, and to some degree self-existent, of whom personal relationship with man is predicable, we must conclude that even this strict school of monotheism recognized at least the possibility of a bi-personal God" (Ibid., p. 184).
As the doctrine of Trinitarianism began to develop, the early Binitarian Christians were caught in a controversy over the two opposing beliefs. It was
" a struggle between a Binitarian and Trinitarian interpretation of the Christian facts -- a struggle which maintained itself for nearly FOUR centuries [spanning one fifth of the entire history of Christianity]" (Ibid., p. 199).
A major element of the controversy was the relationship of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Was the Spirit a distinct person, or did the Spirit come from Christ as His power? Rawlinson, an Anglican bishop and scholar, finds abundant evidence in the New Testament to illustrate a strong Christian belief in the Spirit as the power of Christ and the Father. He states,
" . . . in the New Testament, there can be no doubt that the other strain of thought in which the Spirit is regarded in the main as an 'influence,' 'gift,' or 'power' sent by the Father and the Son, and not as a distinct person, is fully represented. M. Lebreton [Les Origines du Dogme de la Trinite, pp. 347-348] repeatedly admits that large numbers of texts represent the Spirit as an impersonal force, both in Acts and in St. Paul." (Ibid., p. 203).
Rawlinson makes it clear that the apostle Paul did not regard the Holy Spirit as a distinct person, but as the POWER of Christ. He writes,
"When, therefore, we are told, as we commonly are, that St. Paul 'identifies' the Risen Christ with the Spirit [2 Corinthians 3], we must assume the critics to mean that his theology in the main belongs to the second (or 'Macedonian') type previously mentioned. A second divine being, who may be called indifferently the 'Son,' 'Image,' or 'Wisdom' of the Father ...has been incarnate among men, and now from his risen sphere extends his fellowship to men and sheds out his influence [through the Holy Spirit as just attested] upon those who accept it" (Ibid., pp. 204-205).
Rawlinson further attests to the contrast between Trinitarianism and the Binitarian theology of the apostle Paul:
"The result of his [the apostle Paul's] innovation, however, is to reinforce the conclusion that we cannot eliminate from his thought a very large admixture of purely Binitarian elements, in which the Spirit--if distinguished from Christ at all--is distinguished as the thing from the person, the gift from its giver, the influence from its fount, and not as one hypostasis in the Godhead from another " (Ibid., p. 207).
The writings of the apostle Paul clearly reveal a Binitarian view of the Holy Spirit. The predominance of Binitarian thought in early Christianity is evident not only in Paul's epistles but also in other New Testament epistles, as Rawlinson shows in the following summary:
"Of the seventeen Epistles which open with the invocation of 'grace and peace' or the like upon the readers, in thirteen these gifts are specifically mentioned as coming from 'God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ'; in two there is explicit mention of the first two Persons of the Trinity in the same context, though not definitely as the source of grace; in one (Colossians) the reading varies between 'from God' and 'from God and Christ'; in one only (1 Peter ) is there any mention of the Spirit at all, and then not as a source of grace.
"Of the formulae of thanksgiving or blessing which in eleven cases follow the opening salutation, three are addressed to the Father alone, one to the Father and the Son, six to the Father with an immediate and closely related mention of the Son (e.g. 'the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ'); one is quite vague; but in not a single case is there any mention of the Spirit at all.
"The facts are startling in their importance. Here are formulae as fixed and solemn, in their way, as the baptismal formula itself; twenty-two of them are definitely Binitarian, only one [in 1 Peter ] is [remotely] Trinitarian " (Ibid., pp. 203-204).
Did the Apostles believe in Two Gods?
The New Testament bears ample evidence of the Binitarian beliefs of the apostles of Jesus Christ. Yet in the centuries that followed, the doctrine of Trinitarianism came to dominate Christian thought. If the apostles of Christ did not profess the Trinity, upon what authority was the doctrine of Trinitarianism introduced into the Christian Church? How can the acceptance of Trinitarianism as a Christian doctrine be explained? Rawlinson gives the answer when he states that:
"...if the faith [in the Trinity] be logically and empirically unverifiable [not supported by the New Testament], even the fact that the earliest [Roman] Christians held it cannot vindicate it, unless our appeal be to bare authority [of the Roman church] and that alone " (Ibid., p. 210).
It is a historical fact that the doctrine of the Trinity entered the New Testament church through the influence of Rome. As the influence of the Roman church grew, belief in the Trinity spread throughout the Christian churches. In time, the doctrine of Trinitarianism replaced the earlier Christian belief in a Bi-personal God.
Although Trinitarianism had the greatest influence on Christian belief in the early centuries, the doctrine of Modalism also had its effect. Introduced by the philosopher Sabellius about 100 A.D., the teaching that Jesus and the Father were one and the same God soon had followers in many churches. While some Christians embraced this Modalist teaching, other Christians denounced it as heresy. A record from 170 A.D. shows the Ephesus brethren resisting the doctrine of Modalism and holding to their belief in a Bi-personal divinity. Here is that historical account:
"Noetus [a Smyrnan brother who as a devout Modalist founded the Patripassian heresy], when cited before a council in Asia Minor [the elders at Ephesus], sought to conceal his Patripassian learning by emphasizing his monotheism, and pathetically exclaimed: 'What wrong have I done? I adore the One God, I know but One God, and none beside Him, who was born, suffered, and died!' [Ephiphanius, Haeres., 57, 1].
"The assembled bishops (called presbyteri, [Polycrates among them]) did not reply that they were Ditheists. They simply declared: 'We, too, adore the One God, but in a manner in which we know that He is adored rightly. And we likewise possess the One Christ,...the Son of God, who suffered and died' " (Preuss, The Divine Trinity: A Dogmatic Treatise, p. 119).
The elders of Ephesus in New Testament times affirmed their belief in two Beings who are God--God the Father, and God the Son. Does this statement of belief fit the Scriptural definition of the oneness of God?
We should not base our answer to this question on the teachings of philosophers and theologians. God Himself reveals the true answer in His Word. Let us examine the Scriptures to find the true meaning of God's oneness.