Modalism and Hebrews 1

Written by John Carson




Hebrews 1 is rich in theology. One can study this chapter alone for months and still be enthralled with its richness. My purpose for this study in Hebrews is to identify who these passages are speaking about, then to seek answers about their individualities.


Why is this important? As a Trinitarian, I can point to different Biblical passages that speak of the Father being the Eternal God, Jesus being the Eternal God and the Holy Spirit being the Eternal God, while showing that the three are the one true God. However, there are Modalists who will come to what appears to be a similar conclusion... They believe the Father is God, Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God. In reality though, their theological positions are worlds apart from Trinitarian's. For they teach these are not Persons that co-existed together eternally, but are different manifestations of one Person.


There are plenty of Old Testament references foretelling of the future coming of the Messiah. But do the references to the Messiah (Son) in Hebrews 1 clearly show His distinct individuality from the Father? And was this eternal? Are these passages speaking of these two, the Father and Jesus as being a single entity (Modalism), or co-eternal and co-equal individuals (Trinitarianism)?


Before we begin, identifying the characters will help with our study. To make the identities easier to see, I have highlighted clear references to the Father in green, clear references to Jesus in red and possible references to the Holy Spirit in blue.


  • Hebrews 1:3-4 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high: Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.


Who is the writer of Hebrews referring to? Both Modalists and Trinitarians agree this is Jesus. The One Who sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high is Jesus who has a more excellent name than the angels.


From this point the writer of Hebrews introduces Someone Who speaks of Another.


  • Verse 5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?


The Father is speaking about the same Person, Jesus (verses 3-4... “Who”, “he” and “himself”) is clearly identified here in verse 5 as being the Son.


  • Verse 6 And again, when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.


The Father is speaking about the Son.


The Father commands all the angels to worship Him (Jesus). Notice also the Father brings Another into the world. It does not say He sends Himself.


  • Verses 7, 8 And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.


The Father is speaking about the Son.


Whose throne and kingdom are these? The Father says they belong to Jesus, and the Father called Him God.


  • Verse 9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.


The Father is speaking about the Son.


Notice also the Father refers to God as Another besides Himself and the Son. The structure of the sentence may suggest there are three characters (there are at least two). The Speaker (Father - First Person Singular, see verses 5 and 8), is referring to One (Holy Spirit - Second Person Singular), who anoints Another (Jesus - Third Person Singular).



Note: The opinion that the word “God” here in verse 9 as referring to the Holy Spirit, is my own, and may not reflect the opinions of others from Doorway Christian Outreach. Others view this word “God” in this verse as referring to the Father speaking about Himself in the Second Person Singular. 



The One speaking (Father) says God (in my opinion the Holy Spirit) anointed thee (Jesus) with the oil of gladness.


  • Verse 10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:


The Father is speaking about the Son.


Who laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning? The Father is not speaking to Himself, but to the same Person He has all along. The heavens are the work of whose hands? Thine (Jesus') hands. This verse is one that needs to be pondered deeply because it brings us to the main point of the study. The Father refers to Another (Jesus) as acting as God (creating heaven and earth). This is before the incarnation!


  • Verse 11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;


The Father is speaking about the Son.


Thou (Jesus) remains. He will not perish.


  • Verse 12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.


The Father is speaking about the Son.


Thy (Jesus') years shall not fail. Jesus is the same yesterday (verse10), today (verse 11), and forever (verse 12). See Hebrews 13:8.


As you have noticed, the references the Father made to Jesus was not broken anywhere throughout these passages. This is a serious problem for Modalists. If God the Father refers to the Son in the third person singular (example; thou, thee, thy, thine, him, as are seen above), then the Father was speaking of Another Person. Since the Father has been speaking of this One as active prior to His incarnation (verse 10), then He (Jesus) eternally existed as a separate personage than the Father.


Conclusion: Jesus existed and acted as God prior to the incarnation and therefore eternally co-existed with the Father. The Trinity doctrine therefore has a firm foundation in Scripture.