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The doctrine explained on this page is generally considered heretical by Christians. Its inclusion as a doctrine is not an endorsement of its truthfulness. There are many false doctrines. 2 Peter 2:1–3

This page not only explains the doctrine, but hopefully why it is widely known to be false. It is good to be aware and ready to give an answer to false doctrines. 2 Timothy 4:2–5

Modalism is the heretical belief that God is not one being with three district persons, but rather that there is only a single person in the godhead who switches between different modes of how he presents himself. They still believe Jesus and the Holy Spirit are God, but only as manifestations of God, not inherent, separate persons.

This belief does not line up with what we see in the Bible. Throughout the Bible, this would have God talking to Himself. From the beginning when He says, “Let us make man in our own image”, to Christ’s dying words—”Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”, God reveals His distinct persons.

Throughout Christ’s life in particular, He demonstrated submission to and distinctness from the Father. Even the very fact that He called God His father demonstrated such.

Jesus said He only taught what His Father had taught Him, and some knowledge God the Father didn’t tell Christ:

John 8:28 Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.

Mark 13:32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

This is nonsensical if Jesus was just another mode God could change into. It shows how Jesus, despite having the same essence, was still a separate person with separate knowledge. It suggests Jesus even had a separate mind from the Father even.

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.

This is the clearest picture of the three persons of the Trinity. All three were present and manifesting Themselves at the same time. It was not a unitary god switching between presentations. Other verses, like 1 John 5:7, also further define God as being both three and one, not solely one.

Matthew 26:39 And [Jesus] went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

Jesus pled with the Father to the point of agony. While He shared a divine nature and will with His Father, Jesus was a separate person with a human nature and will too. He wanted to avoid crucifixion if at all possible, yet voluntarily submitted to His Father’s will.

The very basis of our hope of salvation rests in Christ’s sacrifice to the Father on the cross.

Hebrews 9:14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Again, it would be nonsensical for Jesus to offer Himself to Himself. Clearly there is a separate person of the Godhead to whom Christ offered Himself. If there was no one distinct to accept Christ’s sacrifice, then it implies Christ’s sacrifice was meaningless.

Modalism is a serious heresy which denies the basic nature of God. It subverts the basis of our salvation and has led people astray for centuries. It is important to understand the truth of the Trinity and to reject this false teaching.

Since modalism has been widely regarded as heresy since at least the 5th century, few Christians today openly subscribe to it. However, there are some sects which still believe it, most prominently the Oneness Pentecostals.

More common is people simply describing the nigh-incomprehensible nature of the Trinity poorly. Often people use bad analogies, such as water having three states, as reflecting God. While such analogies can be hopeful to new believers if properly caveated and explained, many analogies such as the water analogy technically describe modalism instead of the true nature of God. One should be careful not to make an already confusing concept further confused.

Modalism may seem like a small difference from the truth, but this subtle difference has serious consequences. We most take care to describe the nature of God truthfully.