Question: "What is Patripassianism?"
Answer: Many of the heresies that cropped up in the early church were the result of individuals overemphasizing or underemphasizing various aspects of the Godhead. One of the false views concerning the Trinity was Patripassianism, the belief that God the Father suffered and died on the cross along with God the Son, or, more properly, the Father suffered as the Son. The word Patripassianism literally means “Father’s suffering.”
Patripassianism is closely related to Modalistic Monarchianism and Sabellianism in that all deny the distinct personhood of Father, Son, and Spirit and teach instead that God is one Person who manifests Himself in three different modes. In essence, Patripassianism says that God the Father, in becoming incarnate, became His own Son.
Around AD 153, Justin Martyr wrote against those “who affirm that the Son is the Father,” a clear reference to Patripassianism (First Apology, ch. 63). Other early Christian leaders who refuted the heresy of Patripassianism include Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, and Chrysostom.
Patripassianism still crops up today. The popular novel (and movie) The Shack teaches the error of Patripassianism, along with other false doctrines. At one point the protagonist, Mack, accuses Papa (the Father God figure, who appears as a woman) of not caring about people’s suffering. In response, Papa pulls up her sleeves and shows Mack the nail prints on her wrists where she was crucified. The Father knows suffering, according to The Shack, because he (she?) suffered along with the Son. That is Patripassianism.
Patripassianism is an unbiblical understanding of the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity and in fact denies Persons (plural), insisting on only one Person in the Godhead. The Bible teaches the individual personhood of all three co-eternal, co-equal Members of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit. The very title Son of God implies a Father who is distinct from the Son (see Hebrews 1:8). Second Corinthians 5:19–21 leaves no room for Patripassianism: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. . . . God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” On the cross, Jesus prayed to the Father (Luke 23:34). Was He talking to Himself? No. The Patripassianist is wrong.