Why So Much Fuss About the Trinity? Part 3: Jesus, the Self-Existent God

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Why So Much Fuss About the Trinity? Part 3: Jesus, the Self-Existent God

In the previous articles about the Godhead, we have seen how an understanding or misunderstanding of the subject impacts our view of Jesus, the great controversy and salvation. We also gained an understanding, of the progressive faith the Adventist pioneers possessed, due to a continual unfurling of light from God, through the Scriptures. The God of Israel led the Seventh-day Adventist Movement step-by-step, in its understanding of the Father, in relationship to the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In connection with this relationship, we will now look at the subject of Jesus’ existence as it relates to his Father.

 

Sabellianism

Due to the push against the idea of three persons comprising the Godhead, another aspect of the Anti-Trinitarian view, is the perspective of Sabellianism. To be Sabellian was to be “a follower of Sabellius, a leader of the Modalistic Monarchians in the 3rd century who held in general that there is one divine essence and that the Father, the Logos, and the Holy Spirit are three different manifestations of the one God…” Therefore, based on this view there is really only one divine entity, and that divine entity throughout different epochs manifested itself as Father, Son or the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, it was the Father; in the New Testament, it was the Son; after the ascension of Christ onward to the end of time, God reveals Himself as the Holy Spirit. This is a very interesting view held by many outside of the Adventist Church, all for the purpose of maintaining the idea of “One God.” However, we know that this cannot be the case for two main reasons, among many others:

 

  • In Matthew 3:16-17 it states “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’” In these two verses, we see that all three persons of the Godhead are distinctly manifested. The Son of God in the water, The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and the Father speaking to His Son. All three manifested at the same moment.
  • When Jesus spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit, notice what He says “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever…” (John 14: 16) Now if Jesus and the Holy Spirit were/are one and the same person, He would have said “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you Me as a Helper, that I may abide with you forever…” Yet this is the total opposite of what Jesus said. The Greek word for another, is allos[1], which means “different.” This denotes, that while they may be the same in power, and nature, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are different in personality, meaning they are not the same person. It is very true, that to receive the Spirit is to receive Christ, however, that is so because the Holy Spirit is Christ’s representative, not Christ Himself.

 

It is no wonder then, that Ellen White, just after speaking of the power of the Holy Spirit in the context of what Christ said in John 14: 16 states “There are [indicating simultaneous existence] three living persons of the heavenly trio. In the name of these three powers, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these powers will cooperate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their efforts to live the new life in Christ.”[2] According to this statement, we see three different personalities, yet due to being perfect in their unity, they are “One God.”

 

Related Article: One God in Three Persons

 

This is further delineated in Deuteronomy 6:4, where it states “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” Many take that word “one” to mean a singular individual, but the Hebrew meaning of this word, reveals its true intent. Genesis 2: 24 using the word “one” states “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Notice the two words “one flesh.” The word “one” here is echad. The idea behind the word is not one, in terms of singularity, but unity. The same word is used in Deuteronomy 6:4. Now we know that Adam and Eve did not fuse together into one person, to fulfill the essence of this oneness, in the context of marriage. The “one flesh” here, is in reference to unity. Concerning the phrase “they shall be one flesh” the “New Beacon Bible Commentary” states

“The first meaning of this phrase is the obvious one. When a man and a woman come together in sexual union, they are—in a very real sense, even if only for a moment—one flesh… The sexual union is important, in and of itself, but it also lays a foundation for, and symbolizes, the many other profound and complex ways a woman and a man become a unit over a lifetime together, even while remaining at the same time two individuals. One of these ways we have noted, but it bears repeating; the man and the woman belong to each other in covenant relationship.”[3]

 

Related Article: Jesus the “Monogenes”

 

Therefore, it is clear, that when the Bible is using echad, it is referring to a close-knit union, or a covenant between two or more individuals or parties. If the “one” in these two texts meant one person, a different Hebrew word from echad would be used. As a result, when Deuteronomy 6:4 states “the Lord our God, the Lord is one!” it is not talking about one person, but a covenant made between more than one person. A covenant that is so perfect, that the individuals within that covenant are one in purpose, as it concerns that covenant. This is exactly how the Father, Son and Spirit have operated since eternity passed, even in perfect union. Therefore, the idea of Sabellianism is thrown out when one considers what we have gone over. Yet, while the Anti-Trinitarian view that is permeating the Adventist Church is very different from the fruits of Sabellianism; the root of protecting the idea of “one God” is still there and is still being pushed. The propagation of that view purports that the Father is the only true God, and that Christ His Son, while being God, is so by derived power, and not in originality. The reason being, that, if Christ is truly God in eternity and originality, that means you then have two gods. Therefore, Christ cannot be God distinctly. For this reason, we will now look at the distinct Godhead of the Son.

 

A Distinct Savior

As it concerns the eternal preexistent nature of Jesus Christ, W. W. Prescott, was one of the few pioneers, at the beginning of the 1900s, that taught this very idea. Some saw this as a departure from what was originally taught. Merlin Burt states concerning W. W. Prescott that “Prescott’s view and those who shared it were considered by some as bringing in a “new view” that was out of harmony with what Seventh-day Adventists had “always believed.”[4] However, even in W. W. Prescott’s view, there was still a condition, within the understanding of Christ’s eternal existence, and that is, Jesus’ power and eternal existence, was still derived from the Father. W. W. Prescott states “We may conceive the Father existing from eternity and possessing infinite powers, simply because he wills so to exist, without any cause external to himself, eternal and infinite and underived; and of the Son existing with the Father from eternity, and possessing to the full the Father’s infinite powers, but these received from the Father, existing because the Father wills him so to exist, eternal and infinite and derived.”[5]

 

Related Article: Why Did Jesus Die?

 

This is very interesting, notice that the Father has infinite power in and of Himself. This power that the Father possesses, was derived from no one. On the other hand, as it pertains to Jesus, while He is eternal, and infinitely powerful, His eternality and power were derived from His Father. Even more interesting is the fact that this was written in 1920, approximately five years after Ellen White’s death. Why is it more interesting? Because during Ellen White’s lifetime, she wrote the antithesis of what W.W. Prescott wrote in 1920, concerning Jesus’ existence and power. Her statement was extremely clear concerning the distinctness of Jesus Christ, as it relates to the Father, and the derivation of His power. In the book Desire of Ages, commenting on Jesus giving spiritual instruction concerning the resurrection, Ellen White states

“Still seeking to give a true direction to her [Martha’s] faith, Jesus declared, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life.’ In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived. ‘He that hath the Son hath life.’ 1 John 5:12.”[6]

 

Notice those words “original, unborrowed, underived.” It’s almost like saying the same thing, three different ways, to get the same point across. What was the point of doing this? To show that Christ is wholly distinct from His Father. His eternal existence is not dependent on His Father, He exists by His own power. The power is original meaning it is the “fountain; source; cause; that from which anything primarily proceeds; that which gives existence or beginning.”[7] It is “unborrowed” which means “not borrowed; genuine; original; native; one’s own…”[8] It is underived meaning “not derived; not borrowed; not received from a foreign source.”[9]

 

Related Article: Jesus as YHWH

 

Could Ellen White be any clearer? My friends, I think not. Yet some would say “it is the original, unborrowed, underived life of the Father, that dwells in the Son.” The verse, many use to support this idea is found in John 5:26, where Jesus states “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself…” According to this verse it seems that Jesus was given the self-existent life of God, at some point in eternity past, when He was begotten. However, as mentioned before, in the very first article, the immediate context of a text, is vital in explaining the meaning of that text. A major thing to keep in mind is that from John 5:19, all the way to the end of the chapter, Jesus clarifies the rights given to Him, by the Father, within the context of the plan of salvation. Consequently, in John 5:26, Jesus is not speaking about deriving power to live, but instead having the authority to give man eternal life, because He became a human. To put it another way, the Father is saying “because you as a member of the Godhead, made the ultimate sacrifice in becoming a man, you have the full authority to give man, the original source of life, that is originally found in you.” Hence in John 5:27 it states contextually “And hath given Him [Jesus] authority to execute judgment also [determining who gets, and who does not get eternal life]…” Why does Jesus have the right or authority to make this decision? The verse ends by saying “…because he [Jesus] is the Son of Man.” In light of Him becoming a man, He has the right to give man eternal life.

 

I love the way the 17th century pastor, scholar and theologian, John Gill, explained John 5:26. He stated in his commentary:

“The Son has life in himself, essentially, originally, and inderivatively as the Father has, being equally the living God, the fountain of life, and donor of it, as he; and therefore this is not a life which he gives, or communicates to him; but eternal life is what the one gives, and the other receives, according to the economy of salvation settled between them: and hence it is, that all that hear Christ’s voice spiritually shall live eternally; for these words are a reason of the former, and confirm the truth of them, as well as show the equality of the Son with the Father, in that he is equal to such a trust, as to have eternal life committed to him.”[10]

Powerfully put, John Gill states, that the life which the one gives to the other, in this verse, is not talking about the Father giving the Son, His underived life, so the Son can exist. Instead, contextually, the verse is talking about the rights/authority the members of the Godhead have, within the schema of the plan of salvation, which is synonymously called by Gill “the economy of salvation…” God the Father has the right to give eternal life to human beings, but Jesus in a special sense, by becoming one with man, has also earned the right to give man, as Ellen White puts it, “a life that measures with the life of God.”[11]

 

Related Article: Resurrection Remix

 

Jehovah (YHWH)-Emmanuel

In conclusion, it is very true that Jesus has the right to give eternal life to humans because He became a human. Nevertheless, the question stands, where does Jesus get this life through which He enables man to live eternally? Within the context of the plan of salvation, He can give man this life, because He is self-existent and eternal, in and by Himself. Our existence, is contingent upon Jesus, who is self-existent. Interestingly enough, in the Old Testament, there is a name for the self-existent One, that name is Jehovah (Yahweh or YHWH), which is derived from the Hebrew tetragrammaton. This gives us a clearer picture into who the God of the Old Testament truly was. The God who led Israel in the Old Testament, is actually the same Deity who took on human flesh in the New Testament. The God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, would later rest as a babe in a humble manger. Jesus, especially since the entrance of sin, has always been the instrumentality through which God the Father, has connected with humanity. The one who bears that name cannot be “begotten,” in the sense of how anti-Trinitarians define the term. We know the eternality of the name Jehovah, when we apply it to the Father, and in order to be consistent, it should mean nothing less, when we apply it to the Son. In the context of the majority of the Old Testament, however, the name “Jehovah” refers to Christ. He is both Jehovah and Emmanuel, hence Ellen White connects the two names in speaking specifically about Jesus Christ. She states, speaking of the eternal heritage of God’s people “Jehovah Immanuel—He [Christ] “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” in whom dwells “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:3, 9)—to be brought into sympathy with Him, to know Him, to possess Him, as the heart opens more and more to receive His attributes; to know His love and power, to possess the unsearchable riches of Christ, to comprehend more and more “what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18, 19)—”this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord.” Isaiah 54:17.”[12] We must ever be true to the statements of inspiration. If Jesus possesses life that is underived, it cannot then be the “underived” power of someone else, dwelling in Him. The moment we say that someone has the underived power of someone else, it is derived, unoriginal and borrowed power. Yet in Christ dwells the exact opposite.

Read the rest of Akeem’s series on the Trinity

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Notes.

[1] “G243 – allos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 25 Apr, 2019. <https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G243&t=KJV>.

[2] Ellen White, Special Testimonies, Series B, 7: 62,63 (1905)

[3] Joseph Coleson, New Beacon Bible Commentary: Genesis 1-11: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition. (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2012) 111.

[4] Burt, Merlin D., Development of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, (Berrien Springs, Michigan, 2017), 163.

[5] W.W. Prescott, The Doctrine of Christ: A Series of Bible Studies for Use in Colleges and Seminaries (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1920).

[6] Ellen White, Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1898) 530.

[7] Original [Def. 1]. In Noah Webster’s Online. Retrieved May 14, 2019, from http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/original

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible. Available at: https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=gill&b=43&c=5

[11] Ellen White, Desire of Ages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association 1898), 339.

[12] Ellen White, Thoughts from The Mount of Blessing, (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1896), 34.

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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.