Why So Much Fuss About the Trinity, Part 2: Were the Pioneers Wrong?

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Why So Much Fuss About the Trinity, Part 2: Were the Pioneers Wrong?

Introduction

 In the last article, we saw the reality that it has ever been Satan’s plan to attack the divinity of the Son of God. We also saw that a correct understanding and acceptance of this subject is inextricably tied to our salvation. Lastly, we saw what it meant for Christ to be the “only Begotten Son of God.”

 

What we will look at in this article, is the age of the Son of God, the beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist pioneers as it concerns Jesus’ divinity, and how the belief system of those pioneers grew over time. In studying these aspects of the Seventh-day Adventist movement, the beauty and distinct principles that this church brings to the Christian community, by God’s grace, will shine forth in its luster.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Why So Much Fuss about the Trinity? Part 1

 

How Old is the Son of God? 

It is very interesting that many Jews, during the days of Christ, understood very clearly what Jesus was saying, when He claimed divinity, as an attribute He possessed. He did not only claim the divinity of God as His own, but He also claimed equality with God, as something that belonged to Him.

 

When going through the voluminous writings of God’s messenger we see this very idea extrapolated. Ellen White makes two, among many, very intense statements, the profundity of which, will baffle our minds. The first statement is in connection with Jesus’ statement,

 

Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am (John 8: 58).

 

It reads as follows:

 

Here [in John 8:58] Christ shows them that, although they [the Jews] might reckon His life to be less than fifty years, yet His divine life could not be reckoned by human computation. The existence of Christ before His incarnation is not measured by figures.[1]

 

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In other words, as far back, in terms of numbers, as our human minds can reach, we cannot calculate the divine lifespan of the Son of God. The greatest number, going backwards in time, cannot compute the beginning of His existence. We can never reach it, because there was no beginning for Christ.

 

For this reason, as hard as it is sometimes to think that there is a supernatural being without beginning, such as God; it is even harder for some within Adventism to believe that God has a Son, who also never had a beginning. Not only a Son, but One, who as a result of never having a beginning, is just as old as His Father, who never had a beginning; thereby making Christ, God in the fullest sense of the word. The idea behind the last sentence brings forth the concept behind the word “coeval.”

 

Coeval means,

 

of the same or equal age or antiquity: originating or occurring in and often lasting through the same era or epoch.[2]

 

According to the statements we just read from John 8:58, and Signs of the Times, it is clear that Jesus is not only pre-existent, but He is also coeval with His Father. Have you ever heard of a Son, being the same age as His Father? Yet, as promised, this sets the stage for the second statement from inspiration, which goes in harmony with the concept behind the word coeval.

 

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Amplifying the concept of Christ as the personified wisdom of God, found in Proverbs 8:22-30, Ellen White states clearly:

 

In speaking of His pre-existence, Christ carries the mind back through dateless ages. He assures us that there never was a time when He was not in close fellowship with the eternal God.

 

…and then concludes with this earth-shattering statement,

 

He to whose voice the Jews were then listening had been with God as one brought up with Him.[3]

 

Until this day, I have never heard of a son, being brought up with his father. Now just about every Seventh-day Adventist, and even some, who are part of the One True God movement, would agree, that the Father had no beginning. However, if in human vernacular, the Son was as One brought up with the Father, that means the same eternal existence belongs to the Son, in the very same way it belongs to the Father.

 

Therefore, how old is the Son? Apart from his human nature acquired at the incarnation, His divine nature has no birth date, for He is the eternal God. The descriptions that we have read concerning Christ, can only apply to one, who is God essentially.

 

The Pioneers of Our Faith

 

In light of all that was written above, this was not the way that the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist movement always viewed the subject of the divinity of Jesus. To a large degree some, in their allegiance to the belief system of the pioneers, have chosen to stay with the understanding the pioneers had in our past history, while apparently forgetting that this church is ever receiving advancing light.

 

The pioneers of this movement came from different religious backgrounds. Some came from the Methodist church, some from the Baptist denomination, and still others from the group known as the Christian Connection. Many of them were a part of the Millerite movement. However, after the Great disappointment on October 22nd, 1844, a small group went on to become the group known as the “Early Sabbath-keeping Adventist,” also known as “Sabbatarian Adventists,” later on to become the “Seventh-day Adventist Church.” This group known as the Sabbatarian Adventist were mostly Anti-Trinitarian.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Doctrine of the Trinity Among Adventists

 

Some of the great men, who were pioneers of what would become the Seventh-day Adventist Church were James White, Joseph Bates, Uriah Smith, J.N. Andrews, J.H. Waggoner, and many others. In his book “Development of SDA Theology”, Merlin Burt wrote concerning the belief system that these men possessed. The statements are as follows:

 

  • Joseph Bates: “Respecting the trinity, I concluded that it was an impossibility for me to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, was also the Almighty God.”[4]
  • James White: “Here we might mention the Trinity, which does away with the personality of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ.”[5]

Now something interesting to note is that while James White did not believe in the Trinity doctrine, there was also a slight variation in his understanding of Jesus’ position, in relation to the Father. Dr. Burt states concerning this matter

While James White was opposed to the trinity he did not believe that Christ was inferior to the Father. In 1877 he [James White] wrote, ‘The inexplicable trinity that makes the godhead three in one and one in three, is bad enough; but the ultra-Unitarianism that makes Christ inferior to the Father is worse.’[6]

RELATED ARTICLE: God, the Trinity, and Adventism

This is what many Anti-Trinitarians, within the context of Adventism say today. In other words, the idea is that “Jesus is in essence God, because he came forth from or was begotten by God the Father, so of course He would possess all the attributes of His Father, being His express image. Yet, while Christ has the essence of God in Him, He received that from the One who was truly God from the start, the ‘One True God, the Father.’”

Along with that narrative, there are other understandings and nuances as to the subject of how Christ came to be. Christ is not necessarily inferior, but at the same time, the emphasis is on the word “begotten.” In faithfulness to the pioneers, these beliefs are still held today by many. Two of the many great leaders of the Advent faith said it this way:

  • J. Waggoner: “There was a time when Christ proceeded forth and came from God, from the bosom of the Father (John 8:42, 1:18), but that time was so far back in the days of eternity that to finite comprehension it was practically without beginning.”[7]
  • W. Prescott: “As Christ was twice born, once in eternity, the only begotten of the Father, and again here in the flesh, thus uniting the divine with the human in that second birth….”[8]

Many other pioneers echoed the same thought. Notice the concepts of “proceeding forth” and “the only begotten of the Father”, in a very literal sense, being emphasized. We saw, however, in the first article, that these concepts mean exactly the opposite of what many Anti-Trinitarians believe that it means.

For John, the emphasis in the idea behind the words “begotten or proceeding forth” was not the concept of creation, generation or eternal generation, but instead a unique revelation, of the One whose name was being tarnished in the battle between good and evil.

James White, Joseph Bates, E.J. Waggoner, and W.W. Prescott, and many others who believed such ideas, were very wise men, as it concerned their understanding of the Bible, but something that we must always remember, is that at almost every stage of our Christian development, God has to cleanse some species of error from our theological conceptions.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Trinity in Seventh-day Adventist History

Advancing with the Light

An important point to ever remember is that the Seventh-day Adventist church, is not just a church, but a movement, ever progressing in its understanding of the truth. As more truth comes, it will never contradict the truths of old, but only exalt them. Some of the pioneers recognized this, as it concerned Christ’s deity, and practically followed truth when it was revealed. One example of this was Uriah Smith. His progression on this subject is actually very fascinating, it goes as follows:

  • Uriah Smith’s view in 1865 concerning the phrase “the beginning of the creation of God” in Revelation 3:14: “the first created being, dating his existence far back before any other created being or thing, next to the self-existent and eternal God.”[9]
  • Uriah Smith’s view in 1875 concerning the phrase “the beginning of the creation of God” in Revelation 3:14: “Some understand by this language that Christ was the first created being, dating his existence far back before any other created being or thing, next to self-existent and eternal God. But the language does not necessarily imply this; for the words, ‘the beginning of the creation,’ may simply signify that the work of creation, strictly speaking, was begun by him.”[10]
  • Uriah Smith’s view in 1881 concerning the phrase “the beginning of the creation of God” in Revelation 3:14: “Others, however, take the word arche to mean the agent or efficient cause, which is one of the definitions of the word, understanding that Christ is the agent through whom God has created all things, but that he himself came into existence in a different manner, as he is called ‘the only begotten’ of the Father. It would seem utterly inappropriate to apply this expression to any being created in the ordinary sense of that term.”[11]

 

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By the way some of the sentences are constructed, one can feel the mental struggle, as Uriah progressed in his understanding. The reason that I say mental struggle, is due to the reality that he was leaving his understanding of a created Christ, and gradually correcting his views, advancing to a Christ, who was the agent of all of creation.

To go one step beyond this, would be for him to believe in an uncreated Savior. What is becoming more apparent from this analysis of Uriah Smith, is that the more one seeks to be in harmony with the Bible, and the writings of Ellen White, which only amplify what the Bible teaches, you cannot but progress to a high Christology.

The honest study of Scripture can only lead to more exalted conceptions of Jesus Christ. Alonzo T. Jones was another one of those men who saw these exalted conceptions of Jesus’ eternality. A little bolder than some of his Adventist contemporaries, he stated, in the year 1895, concerning Jesus Christ,

The eternal Word consented to be made flesh. God became man.[12]

RELATED ARTICLE: The Conundrum

Three years later, Jones goes on to make a statement that is very close, to that of Trinitarian ideology, by stating:

God is one. Jesus Christ is one. The Holy Spirit is one. And these three are one: there is no dissent nor division among them.[13]

True to the nature of a messenger/prophet, Ellen White also was ahead of her time, in saying in 1906, this breathtaking statement

Christ was God essentially, and in the highest sense. He was with God from all eternity, God over all, blessed forevermore.[14]

To say that Jesus was God in the highest sense, friends is to say that His existence is exactly like that of His Father, even without beginning, without origin, and it excludes coming forth by being eternally begotten. He just is.

Now some may look at all of these voluminous statements of progression, from Ellen White along with other pioneers, and say these were added later, by some form of infiltration. I know this because some with anti-Trinitarian views have presented this to me, as a solid vindication for their stance, regardless of the evidence. To them I would respectfully say, take time to do a humble and honest study of the word of God, the writings of Ellen White, and the writings of pioneers.

RELATED ARTICLE: Experiencing the Trinity

Conclusion

The tendency of humanity has ever been to come to the word of God, to interpret it, through perceived notions that may be founded in error. I have learned, however, that instead, we must come, open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, who inspired the Bible. We must ever be ready to have our views crushed, if necessary. God’s overall counsel, must purify and become the lens, through which we see everything.

 

We must also, ever remember, the way in which God, who is light, draws humanity to Himself. To reveal all of His fullness immediately, to a people coming out of darkness, would result in their extinction. The reason being that, finite man cannot handle the complete revelation of the infinite God, it would be too much to handle all at once.

 

This is the reason for eternal salvation, that we might have eternity, for our minds to process the eternal God. Therefore, Proverbs 4:18 summarizes how our loving God, unveils the truth about Himself, both to the pioneers and this present generation, by saying,

But the path of the just is as the shining sun, that shines more and more unto the perfect day.

Read the rest of Akeem’s series on the Trinity

______

Notes.

[1] White, Ellen. “The Word Made Flesh.” Signs of the Times, May 3rd, 1899, par. 4.

[2] “coeval.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary: Of The English Language Unabridged. 2002.Merriam-Webster Inc., Publishers. Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

[3] White, Ellen. “Resistance to Light-No. 3.” Signs of the Times, May 29th, 1900, Par. 15.

[4] Burt, Merlin D., Development of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, (Berrien Springs, Michigan, 2017), 153.

[5] Ibid, 153.

[6] Ibid, 154.

[7] E. J. Waggoner, Christ and His Righteousness (Oakland, California: Pacific Press, 1890), 21-22.

[8] W.W. Prescott, “The Christ for Today,” Review and Herald, April 14, 1896, 232.

[9] Uriah Smith, Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Revelation (Battle Creek, Mich.: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Assn., 1865), 59.

[10] Uriah Smith, Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Revelation, 2nd ed. rev. (Battle Creek, Mich.: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Assn., 1875), 66.

[11] Uriah Smith, Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Revelation, 3rd ed. rev. and enl. (Battle Creek, Mich.: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Assn., 1881), 74.

[12] A. T. Jones, “The Third Angel’s Message Number 17,” General Conference Bulletin, February 25, 1895, 332.

[13] A. T. Jones, editorial, Review and Herald, January 10, 1899, 24.

[14] Ellen G. White, “The Word Made Flesh,” Review and Herald, April 5, 1906, 8.

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About the author

Akeem James

Akeem James is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, and has lived in the United States since 2001. At the age of 16, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, and became a Seventh-day Adventist. Currently, he obtained his Masters in Divinity degree from Andrews University and is the director of Ultimate Cry Ministries.