Here’s an argument against any form of modalism about the Son, which says that the Son just is, or is a mode of God, or of the Father. The following objection would apply, then, to any form of modalism which affirms one of these claims. So it would apply to a modalism which says that only the Son is a mode of God, or to (as I understand it) historical Sabellianism, and to any form of what I called FSH-modalism in a previous post. I’ll put the objection in terms of the Son being a mode of God, but I think the argument works the same way if you substitute “Father” for “God”.
- Suppose that modalism is true about the Son.
- Therefore, either the Son is identical to God, or the Son is a mode of God. (2)
- The Son is identical to God only if whatever is true of God is true of the Son, and vice versa.
- Some things are true of God which are not true of the Son, and vice versa.
- Therefore the Son is not identical to God. (3,4)
- If the Son is a mode of God, then the Son at no time has a loving interpersonal relationship with God.
- The Son has had a loving interpersonal relationship with God.
- Therefore, the Son is not a mode of God.
- Therefore, modalism about the Son is false; the Son is not a mode of God. (2,5,8)
Some explanatory comments on the steps of the argument:
1 – a supposition that is disproved by the rest of this argument
2 – true by definition
3 – a necessary and self-evident truth – just an application of Leibniz’s Law to God and the Son
4 – Straighforwardly implied by many passages in the New Testament. Just off the top of my head: e.g. The Son was sent by God to save the world, but God wasn’t so sent. At Gethsemane, God wanted the Son to be crucified, but the Son didn’t want himself to be crucified. The Son is the mediator between God and humankind, but God isn’t.
5 – implied by 3 & 4
6 – It is a necessary truth that modes of personal being can’t enter into interpersonal relationships. e.g. My wife can’t be best friends with my easygoingness.
7 – Again, New Testament.
8 – implied by 6 & 7
9 – implied by the preceding. Basically, there are two ways modalism about the Son could be true, but both are inconsistent with the New Testament. So, on the supposition that we should believe about God what the NT says, modalism about the Son is false.
This seems to me to be pretty close to a knockdown argument, for people committed to the New Testament (such as me).
The only possible way I see out is challenging 6. But 6 seems true. It is an obvious truth that no mode, even if it is mode of personal being, is itself a personal being (it ain’t, insofar as it is a mode, a being / entity / substance). And it is an obvious truth that only personal beings can be the relata of interpersonal relationships.
Isn’t this enough to convince us to reject modalism about the Son? Do we really need to get into specific passages of the NT? It seems to me that one can be a modalist about the Son only by leaving aside the plain assertions of the NT, or else the plain deliverances of common sense. (Or, both – some types always go for the extreme options!)