Heresies all Around us – Modalism

Heresies all Around us – Modalism

Part 4 – Modalism

Jesus is like an uncle, nephew, father, brother, or son… Come on Patrick!

Try this: Ask your pastor, youth leader or someone else in your church to explain the trinity! That is a fun question to ask, don’t you think? Many will struggle to give a good answer, and that is not weird. Many of the heresies we discuss touch, one way or the other, on the concept of the trinity. On such heresy is called ‘Modalism.’

Our God is a Triune God

First a little explanation about the doctrine of the trinity. Orthodox Christianity believes that God is one in being and three in person. To understand that we will have to define what the difference between a being and a person is.

Okay, for that we can look at ourselves. What is it what you see when you look in the mirror? Yes, you see your reflection… But fundamentally you see a human being. Your flesh, bones, hair, brains etc. is all part of you being a human. So, human being is what you are. But a human being is not who you are. Who you are is the person. In my case, my legs, arms, and head are showing what I am, a human being. But who I am is Jurgen Hofmann. So, even the fact that my body shows what I am, it doesn’t show who I am. Who I am is Jurgen Hofmann, who is a caring, sweet and a loving person… The being is the ‘what,’ and the person is the ‘who.’ We know that humans are one being and one person.

But when we look at God, we see something else. God is one Being, and that Being is called YHWH. The ‘what’ of YHWH is God. But YHWH is three persons, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. These three show who God is. These three Persons are one in being, which means that they are all God, they are all YHWH. These three persons are all eternal and uncreated, because they are one being called YHWH.

Recipe for Heresies

You might understand that this concept makes a good recipe for heresies. Actually, many of the heresies I want to discuss will touch, one way or the other, on this concept of trinity. In part two, I already discussed Arianism. Arianism detached the Son from God by saying that He was just created. In part three we discussed Antinomianism, which came close to saying that the God appeared as Jesus who was the opposite of the vengeful Old Testament God. All these attempts were doomed to fail because they denied the fact that salvation can only come through and from God, and thus Jesus had to be God Himself.


Modalism is no exemption. This idea is basically teaching that God is a single person who first manifested himself in the mode of the Father in Old Testament times. At the incarnation, the manifestation was the Son; and after Jesus’ ascension, the manifestation is the Holy Spirit.

I started this video with the example of the uncle, nephew, father, brother, or son. This is one of the answers you might receive when asking about the trinity. Well-meaning people try to explain the trinity by using themselves as an example. They might say something down these lines:

You see, I am a husband to my wife, a father to my children, an uncle to my nephews and a brother to my sister. It is like that with God. God is the Father to His Children and the Son to those who need salvation, and He is the Spirit to those who need power.

Or they might explain the trinity as follows:

God is like water, H2O. Water can be ice, fluid or vapour.

However, no matter how well-meaning this answer may be, it is pure Modalism! Modalism says that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit never all exist at the same moment. Rather they exist one after another.

To get back to the example of water. Why is it Modalism? Well simply because water is never in these three forms at the same moment. Water can never be fluid, ice, or vapour at the same time. Fluid, ice, and vapour are just three modes of H2O. But God doesn’t appear in modes, YHWH is always the Father, always the Son, and always the Holy Spirit at always the same time—thus three in one.

In Modalism, the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are seen as three different modes of the one God, YHWH. Modalism keeps the concept of Jesus’ divinity but it does so by denying the fact that the Bible teaches that the Spirit operated in this world at the same time as Jesus did. It also denies that Jesus talked with the Father during His life on earth.

Matthew 3:16-17

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Clearly the Bible show us that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit coexisted throughout eternity.

Where did it Come From?

Modalism was propounded by Sabellius (c. 217–c. 220), who was possibly a presbyter in Rome but little is actually known of his life. Modalism, also known as Sabellianism, was condemned by Tertullian.i Tertullian (ca. 150-225), was one of the early church fathers, and he was a notable early Christian apologist. In his writing Tertullian talked about Monarchianism. Monarchianism taught that God was a monad (which is a single unit, or from the Greek mono, ‘one,’ and arch, ‘ruler’) instead of a triad (three units). In other words, it states that the one God is only one person who manifests Himself in different ways at different times.

Basically Sabellius developed his idea by expounding the idea of Monarchianism. He maintained that there is one God in three modes. That is, God sequentially reveals Himself as different persons. At one moment God is wearing the mask of the Father and then at another time the mask of the Son or the Spirit, just like an actor in the theatre. That’s why this is called modalistic Monarchianism, or Modalism for short.

Tertullian’s writing against this heresy was an important contribution to the doctrine of the Trinity. His work undoubtedly helped formulate the Trinitarian doctrine during the council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and later the council of Constantinople in 381 AD.

Not long after Tertullian, Sabellius was condemned and excommunicated by Pope Calixtus in 220 AD, and the doctrine of Modalism has been condemned as heresy by Dionysius, bishop of Rome (c. 262 AD).

There is another form of Monarchianism, namely Dynamic Monarchianism. But I might expound a little more on this another time, not now.


Modalists often accuse Trinitarians of teaching three gods. This is not what the Trinity is. The correct teaching of the Trinity is that there is one God who manifests Himself as three distinct, simultaneous persons. The Trinity does not assert that there are three gods but only one. The Trinity is one God in three eternal coexistent persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Modern Modalism

You shouldn’t expect to find many modern denominations who proclaim that they adhere to Modalism. The term ‘Modalism’ has such a negative tone to it, that most won’t use it. Instead, they rather use terms like ‘Oneness.’

General superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International, David K. Bernard wrote a book called ‘The Oneness of God.’ In this book he openly teaches Modalism.ii

The Bible speaks of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as different manifestations, roles, modes, titles, attributes, relationships to man, or functions of the one God, but it does not refer to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as three persons, personalities, wills, minds, or Gods. [p.144]

He also says that Oneness is the modern synonym for Modalism:

Basically, Modalism upholds the same essentials as the modern doctrine of Oneness. [p.318]

The United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) is the most prominent Oneness denomination. It has an estimated 5.5 million adherants.iii This denomination confesses the following on their websiteiv

There is one God, who has revealed Himself as Father; through His Son, in redemption; and as the Holy Spirit, by emanation [something that is emitted or radiated; causing to flow forth]. Jesus Christ is God manifested in flesh. He is both God and man.

Are Modalists Lost for Eternity?

This is a very interesting question. This kind of questions always makes me very hesitant of answering. You see, Modalists believe that Jesus was God in the flesh. They believed Jesus died and rose again on the third day. And yes, they believe that we can only be saved through Christ by grace.

I do believe though, that by not acknowledging the doctrine of the trinity, they miss out on some awesome understandings of the things that happened in both the Old and the New Testament. But to argue that a Modalist will go to hell… Honestly, I dare not say it. Only God knows, and I think we should leave it up to Him.

How about the modern Oneness Pentecostals? I think the same goes for them. However, they have an extra twist to their doctrines. According to Oneness Pentecostals, the answer to the question ‘what must I do to be saved?’ is not

Acts 16:31

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved […]

Rather, they add water baptism in Jesus name as a necessary component for salvation. The precise words “Baptise you in the name of Jesus,” must be said by the minister, or they are not saved. I need to be honest here, I couldn’t find a direct source to this idea. Rather, the sources I’ve seen are all from third parties writing about it.

Still, even if this teaching is true, I can’t really see how they are lost for eternity.

Treading on Thin Ice

The Oneness believers might think that you and I are lost because we don’t adhere to their teachings, but that is beside the point. And at the same time: That is a precisely the point. Let me explain. We have many Christian denominations, and all of them have their peculiarities.

However, as soon as someone in a specific denomination or church starts to point at others, and say that they will be lost for this or for that… That is a red flag for me! I have met quite a few Christians who pointed at the more traditional Christians, saying that, because they apparently didn’t experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit, they aren’t real Christians. Vise versa, traditional Christians saying that those charismatics aren’t real because they only function on feelings and emotions.

When this happens from the pulpit, I would be very careful if I were you! What makes the preaching in that specific church so much more holy and anointed that they can shamelessly say that those outside their denomination are hopelessly lost?

This is why I am very careful about answering questions about who is saved and who isn’t. In some cases it is quite obvious, like the die hard atheist who blatantly denies Christ. In other cases it is less easy, like those who trust that Jesus is Lord and Saviour but not that He is a triune God. If you are braver than I, go ahead! But remember that even when Peter asked Jesus about what would happen to John, Jesus answered;

John 21:22

If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

And that is what you and I should do: Follow the Lord Jesus!


Anyway, maybe, you have something to add, or maybe you disagree on certain things? Just leave a comment. Remember! I am mostly active on my Odysee channel.

You’ll find a link to that channel in the description of this video or on my website. Don’t forget to subscribe if you want to receive a notification every time I upload a new video!

I very much appreciate your prayers and support! Please take a look in the description of this video to find out how you can help me. Also, I’ll place a link there to both the Dutch and English transcripts of this video.

God bless you, thank you for watching, and, Lord willing, we’ll see each other in the next video!


i Tertullian Against Praxeas, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3. Chapter 3, English transalation by Peter Holmes, Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. [internet] <>, accessed 02-01-2024.

ii David K. Bernard, The Oneness of God, Series in Pentecostal theology – vol. 1, Word Aflame Press, Dunn Road, Hazelwood, Revides edition 2000, [internet], accessed 04-01-2024.

iii UPCI, There’s a place for you, [internet], accessed 04-01-2024.

iv UPCI, Our Beliefs – A brief overview of our essential doctrines, About God, [internet], accessed 04-01-2024. Italic between brackets added by me.

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