V. A Semi-Arian Apollinarian
He… was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God (John 5:18).
Soriano states the principle quite well when he says, “If a religious organization teaches wrong doctrines, that means that the Holy Spirit is not guiding it, and therefore, it is not of God.“42 Or again, “the Church, which is headed by Christ, does not teach any wrong doctrine. Instead, it teaches indestructible and undefiled doctrines.”43 These are the standards to which we will hold Mr. Soriano. If it can be proven that he teaches wrong doctrines, he must then admit that the Lord has not sent him (cf. Jer 28:15), that he is not of God. His teachings must be weighed in the scales, and if they are found wanting (cf. Dan 5:27), rejected. He must then repent and take his flock back to the bosom of Holy Mother Church. I am informed that one of his favorite tactics in debate is to ask his opponent if, supposing he can prove such and such a doctrine from the Bible, his opponent will admit he is wrong and convert then and there to his church. With this essay, I propose the selfsame bargain to him.
There is some difficulty in pinning down Soriano’s doctrine of God. He has not published a thorough exposition, so the reader must glean his doctrine from statements here and there, on his website and in his television programs. I’ve found, also, that whenever he speaks concerning the doctrine of God, he devotes most of his time to attacking “Oneness” evangelicals, who hold that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the same person, and the doctrine of the Iglesia ni Cristo (or Iglesia ni Manalo, as he likes to call it, and I concur), which holds that Jesus is mere man, not God. He spends relatively little time attacking the Trinity (he’ll maybe cite John 10:29; 14:28; 1 Cor 15:28, and then move on), and expounding his own peculiar doctrine.
As far as I have understood it, this doctrine is basically semi-Arian. Soriano clearly believes in some form of subordinationism, as he emphatically denies that the three persons of the Godhead are co-equal. Hence, for all his protestations that Jesus is “a true and Mighty God,”44 he cannot maintain the true divinity of Christ. God is absolutely perfect, a purely simple Spirit (John 4:24) of charity (1 John 4:8). If the Son and Holy Spirit do not share these perfections equally with the Father, they are not “God,” according to the Bible’s definition.
Soriano affirms that the Son was begotten, not created, so he avoids the error of the strict Arians and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which asserts that the Son is merely a creature. His doctrine is less false, if perhaps less logically consistent, than theirs. Soriano properly asserts, if I am not mistaken, that the Son and Holy Spirit receive their being from the Father from eternity, and were not created out of nothing at a particular point in time. The Father never existed without the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is correct, though unfortunately as noted above he concludes that because the Son and the Holy Spirit receive their being from the Father they must be less than Him.
Soriano also tends toward the error of tritheism (that there are three gods), as he denies that the three persons of the Godhead are one in all their works in creation (in the language of theology, their operations ad extra). Indeed, he adduces as one of his arguments against the “Oneness” position that because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are described in Scripture as performing different roles, we may therefore conclude that they are three separate entities. More on this below. Soriano’s tritheistic leanings are expressed very clearly in the first article of his formulation of the basic doctrines of Ang Dating Daan:
“We believe in the Almighty God, the Father, the Creator of the universe, in Christ Jesus, the Father’s begotten son, a true and Mighty God, the only savior of mankind and the only way to the Kingdom of God in heaven ( Acts 14:15; I Cor. 8:5-7; John 14:6; 14:1 ).45”
Soriano also holds to a highly flawed Christology, which states that Christ did not truly become Incarnate, did not truly become a man, but only took on the appearance of being a man. He thus revives the ancient heresy of Apollinarianism. Next, his belief that the persons of the Godhead are not one in all their works leads him to a rather bizarre doctrine of salvation. And finally, as a result of his incompetence to interpret Scripture, demonstrated above, Soriano misunderstands the attributes of God, and denies such a fundamental doctrine as His omnipresence. Let us then test the spirits to see whether they are from God (1 John 4:1), and compare Soriano’s doctrine to the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, using, as he likes to say, the Bible as our basis.
Soriano objects that there is “no such word as Trinity in the Bible.” However, he will use the word Godhead, because he reads it in three places in his King James translation, which he is so heavily dependent upon. As an aside, if he took a more modern translation as his primary version, he might think it was unbiblical to talk about “the Godhead” as well, since neither the NIV nor the NASB ever use the word. In any case, Soriano understands the word Godhead in the same sense it is commonly used in theology, that is, to denote the union of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the three divine persons taken together. This is clear from his affirmations that there are three persons in the Godhead. Now, as noted above, Godhead is used three times in KJV. In Acts 17:29 it translates theion, the accusative of theios, meaning divine nature or divinity. The context says nothing about multiple persons or entities; in fact, St. Paul introduces “God that made the world and all things therein” in v. 24.
From Soriano’s perspective, then, this sermon is about God the Father, and theion in v. 29 must refer to the Father’s nature as God. Next, in Romans 1:20 Godhead translates theiotes, or divine nature. Again, the context contains nothing about multiple persons; it is about the divine attributes knowable by reason alone. Finally, in Colossians 2:9 it translates theotetos, the genitive of theotes, the essence of divinity. Soriano, reading the translation “Godhead” from his KJV Bible, and interpreting Godhead the way it is commonly used in theology, takes this passage to mean that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all dwell in body of Jesus Christ. However, the meaning of the Greek is that the fullness of the essence of the divinity dwells in Christ, that is, that the Son is fully God, participates fully in the divine nature of the Father, and is therefore co-equal with Him. In this context, theotetos denotes the divine essence, not the persons of the Godhead. So, Soriano is once again hoisted by his own petard. If the word Trinity is never used in the Bible, neither is the word Godhead, at least in the sense Soriano takes it to mean.
But this is not a battle of semantics anyway. What matters is not whether we can find the word Trinity in the Bible, but whether the concept is there. And it is.
First, that the Father and Son are co-equal is taught in John 5:18, as St. Augustine proves:
“Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father;” not in any ordinary manner, but how? “Making Himself equal with God.” For we all say to God, “Our Father which art in heaven;” we read also that the Jews said, “Seeing Thou art our Father.” Therefore it was not for this they were angry, because He said that God was His Father, but because He said it in quite another way than men do. Behold, the Jews understand what the Arians do not understand. The Arians, in fact, say that the Son is not equal with the Father, and hence it is that the heresy was driven from the Church. Lo, the very blind, the very slayers of Christ, still understood the words of Christ. They did not understand Him to be Christ, nor did they understand Him to be the Son of God: but they did nevertheless understand that in these words such a Son of God was intimated to them as should be equal with God. Who He was they knew not; still they did acknowledge such a One to be declared, in that “He said God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” Was He not therefore equal with God?46″
Next, we saw above that the Trinity is taught in Colossians 2:9 as well. All the fullness (Gk. pan to pleroma) of the essence of divinity dwells in Christ. Since Soriano is a subordinationalist, he does not confess that all the fullness is in Christ; he can only confess that some of the nature of the Father’s divinity is in Christ, otherwise he would have to admit that the Son is equal to the Father.
Moving on, we see the same doctrine once again in Philippians 2:6, which the Douay-Rheims renders as “[Christ Jesus] being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” More modern translations render the last clause as “[Christ] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (NAS), however, when we consider that “grasped” (Gk. harpagmon) carries the connotation of seizing that which is not rightfully one’s own, the meaning is essentially the same. Now, we have two possibilities for the correct interpretation of this verse: (1) Christ is naturally and properly equal to the Father, so He knew that He did not have to attain such a state by robbery, and was perfectly justified in teaching the Jews as much (cf. John 5:18), or (2) Christ is less than God, and he knew that He ought not to exalt Himself and seize for Himself a status of equality which was not properly His. The Catholic Church holds the former, whereas the Arians, and most likely Soriano following them, hold the latter. So, many of the arguments that the Holy Fathers adduced against the Arian position might be applied to Soriano as well.
In this vein, St. John Chrysostom observes that for an inferior God to attempt to seize the power of a superior God is absurd and intrinsically impossible:
“Tell me now… if [Christ] were little, as they say, and far inferior to the Father in power, how could He possibly have seized to Himself equality with God? For an inferior nature could not seize for himself admission into that which is great; for example, a man could not seize on becoming equal to an angel in nature; a horse could not, though he wished it, seize on being equal to a man in nature.”47
Furthermore, according to the Arian interpretation of this verse, in which St. Paul praises Christ for not desiring to snatch for Himself the possessions of his Father, St. Paul is essentially praising Christ for abstaining from the behavior of Satan. Obviously, there is nothing especially praiseworthy about this! Indeed, it is the bare minimum demanded by justice. Additionally, in this case, St. Paul’s appeal to the example of Christ is inappropriate for the lesson he is attempting to teach the Philippian Christians about humility. In the Catholic interpretation, on the other hand, Christ’s example does illustrate extraordinary humility: He for whom it was not robbery to be equal to God (because He was equal to God by right) so abased Himself as to take on the form of a servant, a mortal man.
Finally, Revelations 1:8 likewise contradicts Soriano’s distinction between the Father, who alone is “almighty God” and the Son, who is allegedly just “a mighty God.” In this verse Jesus Christ tells St. John, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (cf. Rev 15:3). Kurios ho theos is how the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament which the Apostles used) translated YHWH Elohim, the Lord God, one of the divine titles of the one and only God in the Old Testament. Likewise, the title Almighty (Gk. pantokrator) is used in Scripture exclusively of the Most High (cf. 2 Cor 6:18; Rev 4:8; 11:17; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22). Jesus could not properly be called “the Lord God almighty” if He were subordinate to the Father, who alone is almighty. The Scripture only makes sense if Jesus is consubstantial with the Father, if they are two co-equal persons in one God, if everything the Father is, the Son is as well.
Testimonies to the true nature of the Holy Spirit, the third co-equal divine person of the Blessed Trinity, are less numerous and explicit. However, the doctrine is taught in Scripture nonetheless. Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott summarizes the biblical evidence:
“The name “Holy Ghost” and the name “God” are used alternately. Acts 5, 3 et seq.: “Ananias, why has Satan tempted thy heart that thou shouldest lie to the Holy Ghost? Thou hast not lied to men, but to God.” Cf. 1 Cor. 3, 16; 6, 19 et seq. In the Trinitarian Formula of Baptism, the Holy Ghost is made equal to the Father and the Son who are truly God. Again, divine attributes are ascribed to the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost possesses the fullness of knowledge: He teaches all truth, presages future things (John 16, 13), searches the innermost secrets of God (1 Cor. 2, 10) and has inspired the Prophets of the Old Covenant (2 Peter 1, 21; cf. Acts 1, 16).48″
Next let us examine the verses which Soriano alleges against the equality of persons within the Trinity. The first is John 10:29, which reads “My Father, who has given [my sheep] to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” According to Soriano, because the Father is greater than all, that means He must be greater than the Son and the Holy Spirit.
But to answer this interpretation one need only look at the immediate context. Jesus is here assuring the Jews that no wolf is able to snatch His sheep out of His hand, that is, no wicked person, man or demon, is able to take down to perdition one of God’s elect whom He has predestined for eternal glory. The reason the wicked are unable to do so is because Jesus’ Father is “greater than all,” that is, He is greater and more powerful than any creature who might try to steal His sheep. So, in context, Jesus is saying that His Father is greater than all creatures, not that He is greater than the other uncreated persons of the Trinity.
This is especially clear given that in this passage Jesus is simultaneously teaching that He is one God with the Father. He states in v. 28 “no one will snatch [my sheep] out of My hand,” then adds in v. 29 “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand,” and concludes in v. 30 by saying “I and the Father are one.” As St. Cyril of Alexandria points out, “‘the hand,’ in the Divine Scripture, signifies ‘the power.'”49 So, Jesus may be paraphrased as saying, “no one will snatch my sheep out of my hand… No one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Now, Soriano claims that when Jesus says “I and the Father are one,” he means only a union of affection or desire only, and he appeals to John 17:11, where the phrase is used in this sense. However, this meaning cannot be imposed in the context of John 10:30, for the phrase “I and the Father are one” derives its meaning from the immediately preceding verses wherein Christ spoke of His own power and the power of the Father interchangeably. The meaning is “I and the Father are one in power.” I will defer once more to the master of Greek exegesis, St. John Chrysostom:
“Then that thou mayest not suppose that He indeed is weak, but that the sheep are in safety through the power of the Father, He addeth, “I and the Father are One.” As though He had said “I did not assert that on account of the Father no man plucketh them away, as though I were too weak to keep the sheep. For I and the Father are One.” Speaking here with reference to Power, for concerning this was all His discourse; and if the power be the same, it is clear that the Essence is also. And when the Jews used ten thousand means, plotting and casting men out of their synagogues, He telleth them that all their contrivances are useless and vain; “For the sheep are in My Father’s hand”; as the Prophet saith, “Upon My hand I have pictured thy walls.” (Isa. xlix. 16.) Then to show that the hand is One, He sometimes saith that it is His own, sometimes the Father’s. But when thou hearest the word “hand,” do not understand anything material, but the power, the authority. Again, if it was on this account that no one could pluck away the sheep, because the Father gave Him power, it would have been superfluous to say what follows, “I and the Father are One.” Since were He inferior to Him, this would have been a very daring saying, for it declares nothing else than an equality of power; of which the Jews were conscious, and took up stones to cast at Him. (Ver. 31.) Yet not even so did He remove this opinion and suspicion; though if their suspicion were erroneous, He ought to have set them right, and to have said, “Wherefore do ye these things? I spake not thus to testify that my power and the Father’s are equal”; but now He doth quite the contrary, and confirmeth their suspicion, and clencheth it, and that too when they were exasperated. For He maketh no excuse for what had been said, as though it had been said ill, but rebuketh them for not entertaining a right opinion concerning Him.”50
This last observation must be the nail in the coffin for Soriano’s interpretation of this verse. To adapt the saying of St. Augustine, behold the Jews understand what Soriano does not. The Jews well understood what Jesus meant when He said, “I and the Father are one,” that is, He was making Himself equal to God (cf. John 5:18), so the picked up stones to execute Him for blasphemy. And Jesus made no effort to correct their opinion. He never said, “I and the Father are one by a union of affection only, in the same sense that my disciples are one with another.” No, He was saying exactly what the Jews thought that He was saying.
Soriano also attempts to use John 14:28 against the equality of persons in the Trinity, in which Jesus states “the Father is greater than I.” There are two possible interpretations of this text.
According to the common exposition, Christ here speaks of himself, as made man, which interpretation is drawn from the circumstances of the text, Christ being at that time, going to suffer, and die, and shortly after to rise again, and ascend into heaven, all which agree with him, as man, and according to his human nature… The enemies of the divinity of Christ here triumph, and think they have the confession of Christ himself, that he is less than the Father. But if they would distinguish the two natures of Christ, their arguments would all fall to the ground. Jesus Christ, as man, and a creature, is inferior to his Father, the Creator; but, as God, he is, in every respect, equal to him.51
The other solution is to posit that Jesus is here speaking in the category of authority. The Father is the higher authority, to which the Son submits, because the Father is the principle from whom the Son receives His being. However, the Father communicates His entire being to the Son, holding back none of the divine perfections, so the Father and Son are equal in essence and in goodness, regardless of this distinction.52 Incidentally, by these two arguments we have already sufficiently answered Soriano’s attempts to use 1 Cor 15:28 against the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity.
And having answered Soriano’s subordinationism, let us now answer his false Christology. Recall, he is an Apollinarian; he does not confess that Jesus Christ is truly a man, merely that he has taken on the appearance or form of a man. He uses Philippians 2:6-7 in support of this belief, which refers to Jesus, who was in the form of God, assuming the form of man. Of course, the major problem with this argument is that Soriano believes that Jesus really is a God, so to be consistent he would have to admit that if the phrase “the form of man” means Jesus is not truly a man, the phrase “the form of God” means he is not truly a God. St. John Chrysostom pointed out the inconsistency of Arians who did not apply this phrase equally in both instances:
“Tell me now, what means, “He took the form of a servant”? It means, He became man. Wherefore “being in the form of God,” He was God. For one “form” and another “form” is named; if the one be true, the other is also. “The form of a servant” means, Man by nature, wherefore “the form of God” means, God by nature.”53
Reverse the order of this argument, and it applies directly to Eliseo Soriano.
Moreover, St. Paul explicitly calls Jesus Christ a “man” in Rom 5:15; 1 Cor 15:21; 1 Tim 2:5. And the parallelism in the first two of those verses between Adam, the one man through whom death entered the world, and Jesus Christ, the one man through whom came life, would make little sense if Jesus were not truly, actually a man. Also, the whole point of St. Paul in calling attention to the fact that Jesus is a man in 1 Tim 2:5 is to explain why He can mediate between God and man: He is truly God and at the same time He is truly one of us. Moreover, the way we interpret “man” in this verse when it is used with respect to Christ (i.e., actually a man, or just in the appearance of man?) must be controlled by the immediately preceding usage, in which it refers to real, actual men. To switch our interpretation of “man” in the middle of this verse is to do violence to the text. Next, Hebrews 2:17-18 sounds a similar theme to 1 Tim 2:5: “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest… For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” If Christ only took on the appearance of manhood, He would not be like us in “all things“;
He would only be like us in appearance. In order to be like us in “all things” He must be like us in nature. And finally, Matthew 9:8 refers to a group of “men”, and Jesus is one of them. If Jesus had only the appearance of manhood he would not be a true and proper man in the same sense as the rest of them.
The last false christological belief of Bro. Eli which I will tackle is the idea that Christ is not immutable. Soriano teaches that the Father could not have become incarnate since the Bible says He cannot ever change (Jas 1:17), whereas Jesus allegedly “changed” when He became a man. But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8). The Son is immutable according to His divinity. He did not change in His absolutely simple, spritual essence when He joined Himself to a human nature.
Part 5 coming soon…………..