Dynamic Monarchianism is a Christian theological view that emphasizes the oneness and singleness of God the Father. It emerged in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD as a response to Trinitarian theology, which posits that God exists as three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Dynamic Monarchianism, also known as Adoptionism or psilanthropism, holds that God the Father alone is God, and that Jesus was a human who was indwelt by God’s Spirit and exalted to divine status at his resurrection. Jesus did not preexist as the divine Son, but was ‘adopted’ as God’s Son.
The key tenets of Dynamic Monarchianism include:
God the Father is the only true God
Dynamic Monarchians uphold strict monotheism and believe that only the Father is autotheos (self-existent). God is unitary and indivisible. There cannot be a plurality in the godhead. The Father alone is the Supreme Being and the source of all things.
“Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (1 Corinthians 8:6)
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Jesus had a human birth and nature
Since Dynamic Monarchians upheld the absolute oneness of God, they taught that Jesus was fully human and did not preexist his birth. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
Jesus as messiah was anointed by the Holy Spirit at baptism to fulfill the special role in God’s plan of salvation. But in his essence, he was a man like us. His miraculous birth and sinless life did not make him divine.
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…” (Galatians 4:4)
“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18)
Jesus was ‘adopted’ as Son of God
For Dynamic Monarchians, Jesus’ sonship was not ontological but functional. He was not the eternal, preexistent Son, but was granted the status and honor of “Son” by the Father. This adoption happened at his resurrection and exaltation.
“…who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:4)
“God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that he has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.'” (Acts 13:33)
The adoptionist view maintains that Jesus fully represents God and acts on His behalf, having been endowed with divine power and authority. But his sonship was bestowed upon him by God.
Jesus is subordinate to the Father
If Jesus was adopted by God, then logically he is subordinate to the Father in authority, status and divinity. There is an order and hierarchy: God the Father commands supreme authority, while Jesus carries out the Father’s will and acts on His behalf, representing the Father to creation.
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38)
“I can do nothing on My own. I judge only as I hear, and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 5:30)
This subordinationism safeguards the Father’s sovereignty and supreme status over all. The Father delegates authority and sonship to Jesus, but remains greater.
The Holy Spirit is God’s presence and power
Most Dynamic Monarchians did not consider the Holy Spirit as a distinct person or entity alongside the Father and Son. Rather, the Spirit is the power of God the Father dwelling in and inspiring believers.
The Spirit proceeding from the Father is likened to God’s presence, activity or influence, not an actual third member of a Trinity. The Spirit is never clearly personified in Scripture.
“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him…” (John 14:16-17)
“All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:11)
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” (Ephesians 4:4)
Criticisms of Dynamic Monarchianism
While Dynamic Monarchianism strongly upholds monotheism and God’s oneness, critics point to several issues:
– It diminishes the divine identity of Jesus and his equality with the Father, reducing him to a Spirit-empowered human.
– By separating Jesus’ sonship from his deity, it fails to explain how he could be preexistent creator while not being the eternal Son.
– It does not account well for Bible passages attributing divinity, creative power, eternal existence, worship, and prayer to Jesus.
– Reducing Spirit to an impersonal force or presence of God contradicts the Spirit’s personal attributes in Scripture.
– It renders the Great Commission baptismal formula (Matthew 28:19) meaningless, not Triune.
Overall, Dynamic Monarchianism presents a simple and rational view of God’s oneness but does not fully account for the complexity of the biblical presentation of Father, Son and Spirit. The grandest conception of Christ seems diminished.
Early Adherents of Dynamic Monarchianism
Some key early Christian thinkers who espoused dynamic or adoptionist theology include:
– Theodotus of Byzantium (late 2nd century) – taught that Jesus was born human and became divine by adoption. Excommunicated by Pope Victor I.
– Paul of Samosata (200-275 AD) – Bishop of Antioch who argued Jesus was a man infused with divinity. Declared a heretic.
– Photinus of Sirmium (d. 376 AD) – Jesus was human mediator endowed with divine powers. Condemned by several church councils.
– Psamathia (4th century) – female teacher in Arabia who claimed the Holy Spirit was not a person but God’s sanctifying power.
– Paul of Samosata – Bishop of Antioch who argued Jesus was a man infused with divinity.
– Nestorius of Constantinople (386-451 AD) – Jesus gradually became the Son of God by moral excellence and obedience.
Trinitarian Response and Decline
Orthodox Trinitarian theology eventually coalesced in response to Dynamic Monarchianism and formally condemned it as heretical. Key thinkers including Tertullian, Origen and Athanasius argued vigorously for the eternal preexistence and divinity of Christ and personhood of the Spirit.
The Council of Nicea in 325 AD affirmed the Son was begotten not made, of same essence (homoousios) as the Father. The First Council of Constantinople in 381 AD affirmed the Trinity and personhood/deity of the Holy Spirit.
With these ecumenical councils, Dynamic Monarchianism faded from prominence. Yet some of its remnants persist in Unitarian, Oneness Pentecostal, and Branhamist groups that maintain strong God-centered monotheism while not accepting the orthodox Trinity doctrine.
– Dynamic Monarchianism asserts the absolute oneness of God and denies the eternal preexistence of Christ and personality of the Spirit.
– Jesus was born fully human and “adopted” as Son of God via the Holy Spirit, not ontologically God’s Son from eternity.
– By exalting Jesus after his resurrection, God shares divine authority and representation, without Jesus being fully divine.
– This theology preserves monotheism but diminishes Jesus’ divinity and fails to account for Trinitarian biblical evidence.
– Orthodoxy solidified the eternal Sonship, deity and Trinity in response to Dynamic Monarchianism, formally rejecting it as heresy.
In summary, Dynamic Monarchianism presents a rational yet inadequate conception of God that does not fully account for the complexity of God’s triune nature attested in Scripture and historically affirmed by orthodox Christianity.