From the Wikipedia article on Oneness Pentecostalism,

Oneness theology specifically maintains that God is absolutely and indivisibly one. It equally proclaims that God is not made of a physical body, but is an invisible spirit that can only be seen in theophanies (such as the burning bush) that he creates or manifests, or in the person of the incarnate Jesus Christ. In the person of Jesus, one sees the last, best, and complete theophany of God.

Is there any existing church writings by church fathers, reformers, or Christian scholars pre-dating Oneness Pentecostalism that speak of a doctrine of Christ as a theophany, using as a comparison the burning bush or other manifestation of God's presence in a similar vein, either supporting or condemning the teaching?

  • The question is unclear to me. The "church fathers" beginning with Justin Martyr have a tendency to teach that the Father didn't appear to anyone in the OT but it was always the Son making those appearances...is that what you're referring to? or are you asking if any of them were modalists (i.e. holding that God is one person who plays different roles)? Aug 30, 2014 at 3:25
  • I'm asking if any of them wrote about the person of Christ as a continuation (and culmination) of the physical manifestations of the presence of God in the same way that the burning bush was, or if they specifically condemn that teaching.
    – Andrew
    Aug 30, 2014 at 3:37

3 Answers 3


Following the example of St. Justin Martyr (c.100 – 165 AD) who identified the Angel of the Lord with the Logos, theophanies in the Old Testament are said to have been the preincarnate appearances of Christ.

Please see:

  • Chapter 56. God who appeared to Moses is distinguished from God the Father - Dialogue with Trypho | St. Justin Martyr.
  • Chapter 13.— The Appearance in the Bush. - On the Trinity (Book II) | Augustine of Hippo, Saint and Doctor of the Church.
  • The Blessed Trinity | New Advent

    Later controversy
    (2) Justin (Dialogue with Trypho 60) Irenaeus (Against Heresies IV.20.7-11), Tertullian ("C. Marc.", II, 27; Against Praxeas 15-16), Novatian (On the Trinity 18.25), Theophilus (To Autolycus II.22), are accused of teaching that the theophanies were incompatible with the essential nature of the Father, yet not incompatible with that of the Son. In this case also the difficulty is largely removed if it be remembered that these writers regarded all the Divine operations as proceeding from the Three Persons as such, and not from the Godhead viewed as one. Now Revelation teaches us that in the work of the creation and redemption of the world the Father effects His purpose through the Son. Through Him He made the world; through Him He redeemed it; through Him He will judge it. Hence it was believed by these writers that, having regard to the present disposition of Providence, the theophanies could only have been the work of the Son. Moreover, in Colossians 1:15, the Son is expressly termed "the image of the invisible God" (eikon tou Theou rou aoratou). This expression they seem to have taken with strict literalness. The function of an eikon is to manifest what is itself hidden (cf. St. John Damascene, "De imagin.", III, n. 17). Hence they held that the work of revealing the Father belongs by nature to the Second Person of the Trinity, and concluded that the theophanies were His work.

  • 2
    I've never read Justin Martyr before. Thank you for posting this, I've read quite a bit of this dialogue today and have been both moved and encouraged in faith.
    – Andrew
    Aug 31, 2014 at 0:36

I found this interesting quote from Justin martyr here, in referring to Watchtower statements (no offense intended to anyone):

Justin says that the person who appeared in the burning bush to Moses, to the prophets and patriarchs, and who is called “God” is the Son. Therefore, it is striking to note that the very passage that the Watchtower (c)ites in order to support their claim that “Justin said that Jesus was inferior to God” comes immediately after Justin says that Jesus is God and is within his 21 chapters where he sets out to prove that Jesus is God!(13: It is also interesting to note that in the final of those 21 chapters (ch. 75), Justin says that the name of God is “Jesus.”) Notice what else Justin says concerning Jesus:

For if you had understood what has been written by the prophets, you would not have denied that He was God, Son of the only, unbegotten, unutterable God.(14: Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 126.


I'm not aware of any early Christians who wrote of Jesus manifesting himself in theophanies. The pre-mortal existence of Christ is a far more involved and complex issue, especially when theologians reconcile this with the doctrine of Trinity. As noted in a response above, Justin Martyr seemed to think Christ alone manifested himself in the OT. Martyr writes:

Like a king would send his son, he also being a king, thus did God sent Him. He sent him as God. He sent him as to men. (Epistle to Diognetus, VII)

I'm having trouble finding a good English translation, but here is the Greek text: http://www.ccel.org/l/lake/fathers/diognetus.htm. I'd highly recommend reading the whole chapter to get context.

Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, seems to think that this manifestation is much likelier coming from the Holy Spirit, especially when in light of Summa Theologica 31:3 in combination with 'Ipse Actus Essendi subsistens'

Yet [God, the Trinity] does not mean the relations themselves of the Persons, but rather the number of persons related to each other; and hence it is that the word in itself does not express regard to another. (Summa Theologica 31:3:Reply to Objection 3)


Translated as 'act of being,' the expression actus essendi refers to a fundamental metaphysical principle discovered by Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) in his Christianizing of Aristotle.

Aquinas saw that in any subsisting extramental thing one finds a couplet of metaphysical principles: one is the ‘essence’ which makes the thing to be what it is, the other is the actus essendi which gives to the thing and to its ‘essence’ actual existence. (Wikipedia Entry, Actus Essendi)

In other words, Aquinas didn't buy into the fact that God was ethereal and shapeless, but a being of physical and metaphysical construct.

Anyway, to directly answer your question, there isn't any evidence we have to suggest that God or Jesus expressed themselves in theophanies, at least according to early Christian writers.

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