The No-Longer Neglected Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity

(Spectrumbot) #1

The Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on the campus of Andrews University has publicly rended its garments, in the paradoxically understated way careful scholars do, by producing a video series of lectures on the Trinity. This series of sixteen lectures is introduced by a sobering observation: “In the last two decades, there has been a resurgence of Arianism and anti-Trinitarianism, not only in the Seventh-day Adventist Church but also in the wider Christian and Evangelical world.” I opine that many Seventh-day Adventists do not possess a conscious realization of what they believe about the nature of God; they will articulate that they believe in the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, but if you engage them in dialogue you can gradually discern that they incline toward one or more anti-Trinitarian heresies. Furthermore, most Seventh-day Adventists do not realize that anti-Trinitarianism is inextricably linked to opposition to women’s ordination. Although this stealthy linkage is not expressly set forth in the lectures, the scholars provide a thorough biblical, historical, and practical discussion of the Trinity.

Jiri Moskala, Dean of the Seminary, gives a general introduction to the lectures. He claims that the doctrine of the Trinity relates to the practicalities of life. Specifically, a proper understanding of God informs our understanding of redemption and how we relate to each other. He offers that the three distinct persons of the Triune God are co-eternal and equal.

Denis Fortin, Professor of Historical Theology, provides a more detailed introduction. He notes that study of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity has been relatively neglected. Consequently, the recent surge of anti-Trinitarianism is affecting many of our local churches. He concedes that the word Trinity is not in the Bible and that 1 John 5:7 is a later insertion that is not contained in the early manuscripts. Furthermore, the modern mathematical and rational mind is troubled by the notion that three can be one. But the Old Testament’s numerous suggestions of a Trinity formulation are overwhelmingly confirmed in the New Testament, notwithstanding problematic texts that Fortin acknowledges. The Church Fathers in their Christological disputes clarified the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and codified it in the Nicene Creed, although Fortin is careful to note that we do not accept the Platonic worldview that predominated in the past. Augustine affirmed that the Three are equal and bonded by love. He rejected any form of subordinationism; the Son and Holy Spirit may appear to be subordinate in history (with respect to the plan of salvation) but are not subordinate in eternity. Thereafter, the Reformers focused on salvation and ecclesiology rather than the Trinity. The Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason, undermined the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, leading many nineteenth-century churches (and certain Adventist pioneers) to reject the doctrine. Fortin offers the intriguing insight that rejection of the truth about the Trinity can lead to disbelief in the reality of God. He further suggests that the pantheism of John Harvey Kellogg can be regarded as a development that naturally follows the Arianism of the early Adventists.

Jo Ann Davidson, Professor of Theology, surveys the biblical texts that teach the Trinity. She discusses the biblical evidence that there is only one God, that there are three persons who are one God, and that the Three work together. She links marriage to the Trinity by showing that the same word, echad, which means a oneness composed of a plurality, describes the marriage couple (Genesis 2:24) and the Triune God (Deuteronomy 6:4). Marriage helps us understand “heavenly math” that sets forth that 1+1+1=1. She observes in various texts a “rocking back and forth” between the singular and plural in the way God is identified. She explains why Subordinationism, polytheism, and Modalism are to be rejected. She advises that we study other important doctrines, such as salvation, through the lens of a correct understanding of the Trinity.

Moskala, in his capacity as Professor of Old Testament Exegesis and Theology, identifies hints of the Trinity in the Old Testament. He mentions five texts that contain divine plural expressions. He shares seven interpretative approaches to those texts and explains why the first six are problematic and the seventh one is meritorious: (1) mythological reminiscence, (2) reference to Christ, (3) addresses earthly elements, (4) plural of majesty, (5) addresses the heavenly court, (6) plural of God’s self-exhortation, (7) God speaks within the community and fellowship of the Godhead. There are other hints of a plurality of God: (1) echad; (2) texts that show that God sends someone who is God, (3) Angel of the Lord texts, and (4) texts that contain two divine persons and texts that contain three divine persons.

Moskala in his next lecture focuses on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. He observes that there is no reference to the concept of Spirit in other Ancient Near Eastern texts. He argues that the New Testament does not reveal anything new about the Holy Spirit that is not set forth in a nutshell in the Old Testament. He engages in a statistical analysis of ruach, which occurs 389 times in the Old Testament, 105 times for natural meaning, 130 times for human spirit, 11 times for supernatural spirit, 10 times for abstract meaning, and 123 times for the divine Spirit. Three texts speak specifically of “Holy Spirit.” Other texts speak of “Spirit of the Lord” and “Spirit of God.” He then devotes the rest of the lecture to a survey of various texts that describe the Holy Spirit’s functions and characteristics of personhood.

Richard Davidson, J.N. Andrews Professor of Old Testament Interpretation, grapples with Proverbs 8, one of the most disputed passages in the Old Testament. He provides a historical overview of how that text has been interpreted and explores the question whether Wisdom in Proverbs 8 refers to the Son, poetic personification, or the goddess Sophia. The language of birth in Proverbs 8 was often cited by Adventist pioneers in support of their contention that the Son is divine but not eternal, but Ellen White’s citations of Proverbs 8 affirm His eternal existence. Davidson provides numerous lines of biblical evidence in support of his claim that Wisdom refers to the Son, that He is eternal, and that He is not eternally subordinate to the Father. Specifically, he shows that there was a discrete event that occurred before sin when the Son was installed (nasak III) as a mediator between infinity and finitude and that the language of installment explains and is linked to the language of birth.

Paul Gregor, Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Archaeology, discusses references to the Trinity in the Book of Daniel. In Babylon, Daniel is introduced to different depictions of polytheistic gods. But Daniel describes God in various ways that do not incorporate polytheistic characteristics and he is understood by his contemporaries to be speaking about a God who is not to be confused with their gods. Gregor identifies these Trinitarian hints: the Son of God in the fiery furnace, the Son of Man coming to the Ancient of Days, Prince of the Hosts, Prince of Princes, the Anointed One, Michael, and Man in linen. He elaborates on four of them. He notes that “Spirit of God” is used four times by non-Jews: Nebuchadnezzar (twice), the Queen Mother, and Belshazzar. We see the three members of the Trinity in references to the Ancient of Days, the Anointed One, and the Spirit of God.

Ranko Stefanovic, Professor of New Testament, presents a simplified overview of the Trinity in the Bible. He stresses that when we talk about God we are standing on holy ground and thus should be reverent and shun all speculation. The being and nature of God is a mystery. The word Trinity is not in the Bible and the Bible is not a systematic theology textbook. There are ambiguous texts but there are also clear texts. Elohim expresses plurality in singularity. Echad expresses oneness in plural form. He discusses various Old Testament texts in which the singular and plural together describe God. Moving to the New Testament, Stefanovic talks about various texts that reference the Trinity. He notes that we are baptized in one name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The apostolic commission references the Trinity. The dispensing of spiritual gifts involves all members of the Godhead. He then discusses development of the doctrine of the Trinity in the fourth and fifth centuries. He cautions that the doctrine of the Trinity is not Tritheism and that personhood of the Godhead does not refer to human personality (except for the incarnate Christ). By faith and in reliance on what the Bible teaches, we can know that Three are One while acknowledging that the mystery of the Trinity is beyond our human comprehension.

Stefanovic in his second lecture focuses on the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. John 14:16-17 establishes that the Holy Spirit (allos parakletos) is a divine person and not merely an impersonal force. (1 John 2:1 refers to Jesus as a parakletos). There is a difference between allos (another of the same kind) and the word not chosen by the biblical author, heteros (another of a different kind). John 14:25 evidences that the Holy Spirit is not Jesus Himself. There is a remarkable parallelism in numerous texts in which references to the Holy Spirit are literarily connected to references to God. Stefanovic engages John 7:39 and offers that the Holy Spirit had always worked in human history but the fullness of His glory and power did not become manifested until Jesus’ glorification after the Cross. He highlights numerous texts that illustrate the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

Stefanovic in his third lecture discusses the Trinity in Revelation. He points out the book’s first reference to the Trinity in Revelation 1:4-6. He identifies all three persons of the Godhead in Revelation 4-5 and explains the linkage between Christ’s enthronement and Pentecost. He draws on Isaiah 11:2 and Zechariah 4:6 to explain that reference to the seven spirits is a reference to the Holy Spirit. The second half of the Book of Revelation describes the counterfeit trinity. Revelation 12 and 13 set forth the counterfeit trinity as dragon, beast of the sea, and beast of the earth. Stefanovic points out the numerous literary parallels between the Trinity and the counterfeit trinity. He then offers Revelation 14:7 as a literary “clear line of demarcation” that differentiates the Trinity from the counterfeit trinity. In closing, he offers a pastoral appeal that we resist Satan’s end-time deception, which includes a comprehensive effort to corrupt our understanding of the Trinity.

Jerry A. Moon, Professor of Church History, provides a broad overview of the Trinity. He identifies seven attributes of God: personal, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, immutable, good, loving. He notes that in the Old Testament Lord can refer to any three members of the Godhead. Numerous texts in the New Testament testify that Jesus is God. Acts 5:1-4 and Ephesians 4:30 are the clearest texts that testify to the personhood and deity of the Holy Spirit. The Triune God is depicted best in Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14, and Matthew 3:16, 17 and, interestingly, echad is also illustrated by a cluster of grapes in Numbers 23:13. There is a oneness in relationship but oneness in being is beyond our ability to verify. Anti-Trinitarians were dominant in Adventism between 1846 and 1888. During the next decade, there was growing dissatisfaction. Between 1898 and 1913, there was a paradigm shift. From 1913 onward, the Trinity was largely accepted. In 1931 a fundamental belief on the Trinity was written and voted in 1946. There were six proposed reasons for why Adventists initially rejected the doctrine of the Trinity: (a) makes the Father and Son identical; (b) teaches the existence of three gods; (c) diminishes value of atonement, because Jesus as God could not have died on the Cross; (d) The Holy Spirit is referred to by the neutral pronoun It, (e) Jesus is not eternal because begotten. Moon demonstrates why these proposed reasons fail to persuade. He traces Ellen White and James White’s budding opposition to anti-Trinitarianism to 1869 and 1876, respectively. Moon makes two deductions: (a) the Adventist movement may have been derailed if the full truth about the Trinity had been pronounced early on and (b) Ellen White progressed in her understanding. The biblical doctrine of the Trinity differs from the medieval Christian doctrine of the Trinity that incorporates dualism of body and soul, timelessness, and impassibility.

John Reeve, Assistant Professor of Church History, focuses on the historical progression of belief with respect to the Trinity of the early Church Fathers. The best early book about the Trinity is written by Augustine, who admonishes after his presentation that we are not capable of defining God. Reeve stresses that we cannot understand through our contours of logic how one can be three. Reeve discusses the foreground provided by Plato, Philo, and Aristotle: Plato offers his One and Dyad, Philo describes one God and agents of God (Logos, Sophia, and others), and Aristotle sets forth the Unmoved Mover. Irenaeus sees Christ as the bridge between God and humanity, so he claims that Christ must be fully God and fully human but offers no explanation how that can be. Theophilus is the first to use the term Trinity, but he conceives of God and two hands, Logos and Sophia, with the Spirit coming thereafter. Tertullian pictures God as a monarch who has two lieutenants. God is the source of power of the two lieutenants who are subordinate to him. Origen does not see that the Father and Son have the same nature. Christ begins as Logos and ends up as all in all. Christ is God by participation, not nature. Christ would cease to be God if He were to stop contemplating the Father. Sabellius offers Modalism as a solution to the problem of the three in one, but Modalism is regarded as problematic because it contradicts what is taught in Scripture. Accordingly, Constantine calls a council to resolve the disputes that have arisen. During this time, Arius feuds with Alexander, whose secretary is Athanasius. At the Council of Nicaea, Sabellianism (Modalism) is confronted along with Arius, who believes “there was a time when he was not,” that Jesus is a created being. Homoousios (same substance) is agreed to at the Council to dispense of Arius, but a problem arises because homoousios can also mean same person, because homoousios does not dispense with Modalism.

Reeve in part two of his lecture notes two other perceived problems of homoousios: it is a philosophical term that is not found in the Bible. Constantine gets frustrated and changes his position by decreeing that anyone who holds to homoousios is a heretic. But Athanasius holds to homoousios, which becomes a pariah. About forty councils between Nicaea and Constantinople struggle with what terminology is best. Homoios (the Son and Father are similar) is proposed. The term is in the Bible and is sufficiently vague to please everyone, but the term is too imprecise for those who hold to homoousios. And Homoios is found to be contrary to what Scripture teaches. Heteroousios (the Son has a different nature than the Father) garners little support and helps swing the pendulum in the other direction. A new term homoiousios (similar nature but not similar person) is used. This new term rejects Modalism, also argues against Arianism, and is a compromise that those holding to homoousios might be able to abide. But Athanasius who in his lifetime was banned by five different emperors, thrown into a Roman prison and after being freed was forced to walk home in rags through Arian crowds, holds firm. In response to entreaties that homoiousios is better than homoios and heteroousios, Athanasius rhetorically asks, “If the Son and Father have a similar nature, what is different about their natures?” The debate results in a new formula in which hypostases supplements homoousios to aver that three persons share the same nature. This causes a problem for those who question whether the Holy Spirit, of whom very little is said in the Nicaean Creed, has the same nature as the Father and Son. Basil of Caesarea writes an important book that marshals biblical texts that establish that the Holy Spirit is the third member of the Godhead. A new council is convened in Constantinople in 381 and the new formula is voted. Reeve stresses that the formula is correct not because it was voted but because it is taught in Scripture. He observes that we too often emphasize the Three to the detriment of the One. He compares the Scriptural paradigm with the philosophical paradigm in how the Trinity is understood. The eternal generation theory of the Trinity is explained and rejected. We should not go beyond what Scripture has revealed; we should resist the urge to resolve the tension, the mystery, of the Three and the One.

Merlin D. Burt, Professor of Church History, identifies and discusses four reasons for recent anti-Trinitarian agitation in the Seventh-day Adventist Church: (a) proliferation of Internet sites; (b) anti-Trinitarian denominations; (c) perception that the doctrine of the Trinity is a Catholic doctrine; (d) Adventist Neo-Restorationism (a nostalgia for the “original purity” of the Adventist pioneers). He explains the differences between the biblical doctrine of the Trinity and the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity. Before 1890 anti-Trinitarianism predominated in Adventism; Seventh-day Adventists believed that the Father is fully God, the Son is divine but a created or begotten being, and the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. William Miller was a Trinitarian, but his closest associate, JV Himes, was a member of the Christian Connexion, which was anti-Trinitarian. Two of the three founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, James White and Joseph Bates, also came from the Christian Connexion and thus were anti-Trinitarian. Uriah Smith’s early view of Jesus was extremely anti-Trinitarian; he wrote in 1865 that Jesus is a created being. In the 1890s, AT Jones began to embrace Trinitarian sentiments and wrote in 1899 that the Father is One, the Son is One, the Holy Spirit is One, and the Three are One. Ellen White did not articulate in her early years anti-Trinitarian statements. In her writings, she refers to Jesus as eternal in 1878 and later in 1887. Her most influential statement about the deity of Jesus is found on page 530 of Desire of Ages, published in 1898: “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.” From 1900 to 1931, WW Prescott frequently wrote in support of the Trinity. The participants at the 1919 Bible Conference were divided with respect to the Trinity. Thereafter, FM Wilcox wrote numerous Bible studies on the Trinity in the Review and Herald. In 1931, a Trinitarian statement about God was codified. In the 1940s, a few notable Seventh-day Adventists were still stridently anti-Trinitarian. Questions on Doctrine published in 1957 accepts the Trinitarian view. Burt concludes with three observations: (a) the development of our theology has usually been corrective and progressive; (b) some doctrinal changes have required the passing of a previous generation; (c) we can be encouraged that our theology has been and is always supremely dependent upon Scripture.

Burt in his next lecture focuses on Ellen White’s understanding of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. She refers to the Holy Spirit tens of thousands of times in her writings. The early Seventh-day Adventists did not regard the Holy Spirit as a member of the Godhead. They did not believe that the Holy Spirit is a person but merely a manifestation of the presence of the Father or the Son. For example, JH Waggoner in 1877 refers to the Holy Spirit as an It rather than a He, as a power that proceeds from the throne of God. In 1889, MC Wilcox identifies the Holy Spirit as God’s power separate from His person and again in 1898 as the way God’s omnipresence functions. AT Jones in 1907 affirms that the Holy Spirit is a person. Against this background, Ellen White’s understanding of the Holy Spirit can be divided between the period before 1890 and the period after 1890. We see three emphases of hers before 1890: (a) the personhood of the Father and Son; (b) the practical and demonstrable work of the Holy Spirit; (c) rejection of the assertion of clearly unbiblical ideas about the mystery of the Holy Spirit, such as the idea that the Holy Spirit is Gabriel. She first explicitly affirms the personhood of the Holy Spirit in 1893. In 1896, she refers to the Holy Spirit as the third member of the Godhead. Burt shares other statements of hers that affirm the personhood of the Holy Spirit. He observes that she depicts the Holy Spirit not only as a person but as a representative of Jesus. He observes that Ellen White refers to the Holy Spirit as an It and a He before and after 1890 and offers that we should not read too much into this usage of language. He buttresses the veracity of a couple of her published statements with what her original hand-written manuscripts state.

Woodrow Whidden, Ph.D. in the final lecture discusses the practical implications of the doctrine of the Trinity. The overriding issue in the Great Controversy is the character of God. The members of the Godhead are mutually submissive, existing in a profound oneness, eternally sacrificing, and outflowing in creative and redemptive love. If this is the truth about God, we likewise should live in loving rather than selfish ways. The truth about the Trinity enlightens our understanding of personal salvation. Only God can redeem lost human beings. Only a Trinitarian love can be efficacious in redeeming lost human beings. And only a Trinitarian love can serve as a model for how human beings should love one another. He observes that those religious communities that are unclear about justification by grace through faith alone tend to be anti-Trinitarian.

The lectures make use of helpful visual aids and promote various written works for additional study. The video presentations range in length from 17 minutes to 2 hours 28 minutes. The occasional overlap that occurs reinforces important points and reflects consensus of belief. The scholars, who have engaged in ministry outside the classroom, exhibit a humble demeanor that is as much pastoral as professorial. An excellent way for a local church to escape the doldrums is to invite a Seminary faculty member to speak. This series of lectures can help overcome the perception that a divide exists between the scholarly Seventh-day Adventist community and the local church in the hinterland, a divide that is the opposite of what the Triune God models for the church.

The lectures provide no support for the anti-Trinitarian heresy of Eternal Functional Subordinationism (hereinafter EFS), which is the principal component of male headship theory. The lectures do not specifically address EFS but only vaguely allude to it in the Seminary’s introductory statement quoted above: “In the last two decades, there has been a resurgence of Arianism and anti-Trinitarianism, not only in the Seventh-day Adventist Church but also in the wider Christian and Evangelical world.” Consequently, many Seventh-day Adventists may not realize after watching the lectures that male headship theory, which undergirds opposition to women’s ordination, is anti-Trinitarian. However, the Seminary’s non-mention of EFS is probably wise from a pedagogical perspective. We can appreciate that a soft appeal can often be more effective than a direct accusation. We can also appreciate that we learn best when we have not been placed in a defensive posture. In addition, a thorough grounding in the biblical doctrine of the Trinity is requisite to an evaluation of EFS and male headship theory in general.

Ironically, I must now do what the Seminary in its lectures wisely chose not to do, which is provide at least a nutshell description of EFS. Sometime around 1980, male headship theorists reasoned that a new doctrine of God needs to be devised to bolster their belief that women are eternally subordinate to men. Theretofore, Christians possessed a theoretical understanding that the plural oneness of God is a model for the plural oneness of the marriage couple. Christians began to discern that this Trinitarian model for husband and wife refutes the cultural mandate that the roles for men and women be gender-based and different. And as women began to excel in professions previously denied to them, including the ministry, that cultural mandate quickly weakened and became obsolete. In response, male headship theorists reasoned as follows: We need a new doctrine of God. We need to find in the Godhead qualities of hierarchy, inequality, and subordination of an eternal (as opposed to voluntary or temporary) kind, so that we can argue that such qualities forever characterize the relations between men and women. But we don’t want to second Arius and hold that the Son is ontologically inferior to the Father. If we disassociate ontology from function, we can instead claim that the Son is ontologically equal to the Father but eternally subordinate in function. We can then further claim based on that proposed divine model that women, though ontologically equal to men, are eternally subordinate in function.

That many Seventh-day Adventists have fallen for male headship theory and its principal component, EFS, does not need to be explicated. In 2015 at the General Conference Session in San Antonio, a vote opposed to women’s ordination prevailed by a margin of 58% to 42%. Clearly and demonstrably, anti-Trinitarianism is surging, is thriving, and is alive and well in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Moon and Burt raise awareness that the anti-Trinitarianism that predominated among the early Adventists was not a momentary lapse in doctrinal understanding, a lapse that Ellen White could easily correct with the stroke of a pen, but a heresy that has lasted for generations. Many children of the Adventist Movement, as Seventh-day Adventists, descended into the grave six, seven, and eight decades later believing that the Son and Holy Spirit are lesser beings. We should infer from Moon and Burt’s historical overviews that there is still a struggle between Trinitarians and anti-Trinitarians in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The dispute regarding women’s ordination is a manifestation of that ongoing struggle. This dispute, properly understood, is not a mere policy disagreement but a profound theological disagreement about the nature of God that has been ongoing for centuries.

As we consider Fortin’s observation that the Arianism of certain Adventist pioneers may have conditioned Kellogg to embrace a distorted picture of God, we too can observe that many Seventh-day Adventists today have been similarly conditioned. Many Seventh-day Adventists today have found it easy to lunge toward male headship theory and its exaltation of hierarchy, inequality, and subordination because of the anti-Trinitarianism in the waters they have drunk.

Jo Ann Davidson is correct in her assertion that God is not honored by our lazy thinking about Him. The painstaking exegesis shared by the theologians in their lectures models how we should study God. Reeve’s meticulous rejection of numerous imprecise and inaccurate representations of God impresses upon us that we too should avoid even the smallest error in our representation of God. We should accept Whidden’s invitation that we consider the practical consequences of how we picture God. And we should be sobered by the admonishment offered by Stefanovic, that we are not immune from the counterfeit trinity’s last-day effort to corrupt humanity’s understanding of the Trinity.

Let us no longer neglect the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Let us open our eyes and become cognizant of the anti-Trinitarian underpinnings of certain aberrant ecclesiastical practices. Let us demonstrate by our conduct a biblically-informed understanding of God. Let us in the words of our Lord and Savior “be one just as We are one.” John 17:22 (NKJV).

Phillip Brantley is an attorney who offices in Houston, Texas and lives in Sugar Land, Texas and Berrien Springs, Michigan. He is a graduate of Andrews Academy, Andrews University, and The University of Texas Law School. He is married to Marilyn Brantley and they have one daughter Rachel.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

The greater problem is the quadinity. The patching Ellen White to the canon and to the Godhead. The Ellen White Estate has been a gold mine. But not a bearer of th e Gospel of Grace but of works. Confirmed as recently as fall counsel and Ted Wilson.[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:14995”]

(Stephen Terry) #3

The author of this article has done an excellent work in reviewing all of this material and highlighting its relevance to ongoing theological conflict within Adventism. Kudos for that. I have long held the position that there is one more attribute of God beyond what Mr Moon listed. Beyond a certain point God is and by definition will always be inscrutable. This is the essence of the faith we all feel to be salvific. Indeed, there can be no other path to salvation with an inscrutable God.

Perhaps women’s ordination does indeed touch upon all of these issues you list and that is why it is such a battleground today. Foundational issues of theology and praxis are rarely resolved by failing to consider their implications throughout the broader theological spectrum.

(Pierre-Paul Legault) #4

Fascinating, but not everything is about women’s ordination. The marriage relationship is a bad analogy for the trinity and never used in the Bible. In the Bible the marriage relationship is used as an analogy for Christ’s relationship with his Church. Trinitarianism doesn’t suggest that Christ and the Church are co-equal or that the Church is not subordinate to Christ.

Trinitarianism can co-exist with male headship; and women’s ordination can co-exist with Arianism. Let the study of the nature of the Trinity remain a study of the nature of the Trinity - not everything is about women’s ordination.

What will the next seminar be about? The relationship between the health message and women’s ordination? The transfiguration and women’s ordination? How about the temptation of Jesus and women’s ordination? Tithing and women’s ordination?

My favourite take on the Trinity is a youtube video from Lutheran Satire entitled St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies.

(Sirje) #6

Great effort as an apologetic for Trinitarianism - not a study to ferret out the truth of the Trinity. This is way different than approaching the subject with an open mind and without an agenda.

Anthropomorphism doesn’t do God justice.

(Pagophilus) #7

I haven’t watched these videos, but I have heard Ranko Stefanovic present on the trinity before and this is Stefanovic at his best. (He should leave prophecy and Revelation alone as some of his ideas don’t gel with historic Adventism, and even contradict the Bible itself, but on this subject he shines.)

However it disappoints me to read that our seminary professors believe that 1 John 5:7 is a later insertion. They have been and are still blinded by modern critical scholarship and particularly by Westcott and Hort. There is much evidence to the contrary.



“in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth” has been omitted by the RV, Ne, NIV, NKJV marg., RSV, GN, LB, NASV, NSRB marg. (insisting that the words have no manuscript authority and are an interpolation), NEB, NWT JB. AMP italicises the words.

The passage known as the “Johannine Comma” is lacking from most of the Greek manuscripts. However, it is found in Codex 61 of the 15-16th century, kept in Dublin and known as the Montfort manuscript, Codex Ravianus (Wizanburgensis) of the 8th century and in the margins of 88 and 629.

The main authorities for the passage are the Old Latin text of the 2nd century, including manuscript r (5/6th cent.) and the “Speculum,” a treatise containing the Old Latin text, and several fathers. Fuller (4) p 213, citing Wilkinson, states that the passage was found in the Old Latin Bibles of the Waldenses, whose text pre-dated Jerome’s Vulgate. See also Ray (15) p 98, who states that this “Italic” Bible dates from 157 AD. The Old Latin text carried sufficient weight to influence the later copies of the Vulgate, most of which from 800 AD onward incorporated the passage.

The fathers who cite the passage are Tertullian (2nd cent.), Cyprian (250 AD), Priscillian (385 AD), Idacius Clatus (385 AD), several African writers of the 5th century and Cassiodorus (480-570 AD).

The combined influence of these authorities, together with grammatical difficulties which arise if the Comma is omitted, was sufficient to ensure its place in most editions of the Textus Receptus-see Berry’s text- where it undoubtedly belongs.

See Hills (3) p 209, (38) p 210, the TBS (58) “Notes on the Vindication of I John 5:7” and Ruckman (2) p 128-9, (31) p 334. The omission of the Comma from the majority of the manuscripts most likely stems from the influence of Origen and some of his supporters, who did not accept the doctrine of the Trinity.

(Carlo Schroeder) #8

Interesting subject, and I think one which is not often dealt with in the church, and I wonder why. Is it something about God the Spirit that is mind boggling, to me the God head is mind boggling, and that is fine. It only testifies that the God we think we understand and know, is much bigger and awesome in reality, Amen. I must concur with the concept in general, from personal experience I have heard to many “pastor’s”/ brothers ( no sister allowed to speak in my woods, yet ) because watching a video or reading a booking, helps you grasp the error, but when you hear it in person, it shakes and makes you think, am I in the correct church. Did the Adventist church just eject believes out of the window, so the headship discrimination can be practiced. Trust me, just you see a loved one punished for being a women working in the church, then maybe those brothers might consider carefully the implications of the headship concept. If a worker is married, it is even worse, maybe the Adventist church actually wants nuns as workers,

In China, male headship is regarded as anti socialist, and in South Africa a court has ruled that headship is anti constitutional, because it robbs women of there dignity.

(Jeffrey Kent) #10

Well done essay. I would have never guessed that so much could be said about the topic!

Male headship in Christian theology seems to have much in common with Mormonism and Islam. I have to wonder whether male headship adherents ever contemplate this obvious fact.

(Frank Peacham) #11

I think their lecture series would be more complete if a non-supporting viewpoint was presented. It does not follow reason that all non-trinity supporters are for male headship, as they suggest. Dale Tuggy would have been an excellent opposite viewpoint.

Tale Tuggy: Professor of Philosophy, philosopher of religion, analytic theologian, host of trinities podcast.

What concerns me is that all these presenters are on salary from the church–they must support. If not they will be fired. It is like gathering together Papal or Mormon leaders–their conclusions must support their employers.

(Steve Mga) #12

I am GUESSING that the Nicene Creed is TOO Catholic for Seventh-day Adventists.
But the Theology Of The Trinity was worked out in 325 A.D.
In a little over 100 words.

WHY IS IT Seventh-day Adventists were so far behind in their recognizing the TRINITY???
And ONLY NOW having a Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity???

nic1 – we are only allowed ONE posting so will amend this one.
John in Chapter 16 has Jesus saying that there is a Comforter, a Spirit being sent from Jesus
AND the Father to be both a Comforter and a Reprover of Sin.
This Entity is NEITHER the Father, NOR the Christ.
Since it comes from “heaven”, it IS Holy. So the term, Holy Spirit.

George Davidovich –
WISDOM of Proverbs – Many see this as the N.T. person of Jesus Christ.
Holy Spirit discussion by John. He waits until Chapter 16 to do so.
Chapter 1 is the pre-existance of Christ, and His role in Creation of Earth and the Universe.
The pre-existant Christ takes on human flesh by ways that are unexplainable.
HOW does a God who can be everywhere, become a microscopic piece of “DNA” and join
with another microscopic piece of “DNA” and become human??? AND DIVINE at the same time??

(Peter Marks) #13


I am a retired denominational operative. In 1995 I received a letter from my Conference President. It read - “You are not an employee, and the Conference is not your employer. And the Conference is very clear about this.” He was, in his own clumsy way, trying to claim the ministerial exception, even although several years previously all the ministerial people in that Conference had been granted an Employment Contract in exchange for having our labour regulated by the provisions of the South Pacific Division Working Policy.

Talk about a clayton’s contract - a contract you have when you are having none.

Within two years of my altercation with the Conference the Employment contract was withdrawn and the Conference was returned to the provisions of the South Pacific Division Working Policy.

I have begun to listen to the lecture series. Why is it less than adequate for the SDA Seminary Professors, (surely an institution incorporating confessing professors), to present the truth for the education of Adventists, without mingling error in their offering. Afterall, I’m sure they will attempt to accurately outline some of the doctrinal positions they are speaking against.

Your assertion that these presenters will necessarily feel bound to support the Adventist position because they are paid by them completely overlooks the fact that each of them will rabbit on for one hour or therabouts. I’m not sure that anyone is capable of making sustained and intricate presentations if one did not genuinely believe what they are saying.

Perhaps we should think of these presentations as a series of evangelistic presentations.

The Spirit has given gifts to believing professors. In this way some are called by their gifts of knowledge, wisdom, pastor-teacher and discernment to discern both truth and error and to promote the one and break-down the other. The church is not called to give equal time to all theological and biblical points of view.

Adventists were indeed slow to embrace a thoroughly biblical doctrine of trinity! As I listened to Merlin Burt’s presentation on the history of our struggle to do this, I was reminded again of the fact that the Spirit leads his people to a full embrace of truth and to doctrinal development gently. What is more - it seems that we embraced this truth just as the Lord of the harvest was leading us to work among people of non Christian religions at the beginning of the C20th.

Is this so surprising really? Luther did not embrace the truth of holiness of life that Wesley did. Wesley did not embrace the truth of baptism by immersion as the Baptists did. The Baptists did not embrace the Sabbath truth as we did. Christians of all persuasions have thus always been slow to embrace and to make refinements in their understanding of truth.

(Frank Peacham) #14

I would not be so sure. Seldom does good come when the opposition and differing viewpoints are shut down. When one viewpoint believes they are right and all other opinions are deemed counter to Scripture and the HS. We enter dangerious territory.

Then there is the issue of authority worship. Many will believe it because Andrews greatest educated men embrace it. “They ought to know.” Thus there is little time for discovery.

Looking over the 4th century it is obvious that the nature of God and Christ was very very divisive. Just look for yourself at the original documents that detail the struggle the Early Church had in the development of the doctrine of the trinity. If it was not enforced by Roman Law what would we believe today? If it is so easy and plain to understand–why did the Early Church find it so very difficult?


Ironically, last summer, an SDA church elder in a local Michigan (Gallimore-friendly) SDA church was disfellowshipped for preaching against the ‘Trinity’.

Imagine the implications.

As logic goes:

If A (‘anti-Women’s Ordination’) equals B (‘anti-Trinitarianism’),
and B equals C (‘dis-fellowshipped’),

Then A equals C.

Either the local ‘anti-Trinitarian’ ‘elder’ deserves an apology and reinstatement,
or the leading, conference-level ‘Elder’ deserves disfellowshipping for opposing ‘WO’.


In plodding through the ponderous paragraphs above, all penned by Ph D
professors, I realized that the trinity doctrine is so opaquely /obtusely
stated in the Bible, that only someone with a doctorate, can decipher its meaning.

Not the least surprise that there is a plethora of opinions.

Since the majority of believers through the millennia, have been laborers, “ blue collar”, largely uneducated and yes even illiterate, why would God have made an important doctrine, so impenetrably opaque in His written word?

If the TRINITY were such an important belief, why was it not unequivocally and transparently stated ?.

Why does its explanation require sixteen series of lectures, most of which will be incomprehensible to those only holding a high school diploma ??

In my old age (I am eight two ) I am of the increasing realization that much of scripture is “gobledy gook” , —-doctrines so dense, we have to extrapolate them from diverse texts. Why should we have to delve for “proof texts” when a clear forthright statement in simple language would have sufficed??

Most Scripture has minimal clarity for the average Joe or Jane.

What was God thinking to write such undecipherable dense jargon?

(Matt) #18

To many skeptics, there is a simple answer to these sorts of challenges. The Bible is a collection of historical documents reflecting man’s search for God through the lens of Jewish history. There are many diverse opinions within in it on everything from the nature and cause of suffering, to the afterlife, to our responsibilities to our fellow man. When read from a literary and historical viewpoint that seems obvious. It’s only in trying to reconcile these diverse views into a central narrative that we run into “gobledy gook,” as you say. And, incidentally, I think the trinity is a theological view that came out of the inherent challenge of reconciling the belief that the man Jesus was in some way divine, with traditional Jewish monotheism. I have much sympathy with our Islamic friends who genuinely don’t understand how Christianity is not inherently polytheistic.

(Elmer Cupino) #19

In reality these christological concepts will forever haunt us because the underlying latent cognitive scaffolds to these concepts have nothing to do with theology but everything to do with the development of interpersonal attachments from infancy through adulthood. A child from birth through adulthood struggles with his ordinal position in the family, beginning with the dyad then triad and so on of the family. How he resolves this normal developmental milestone of whether he is equal in stature with his same sex parent or not influences his attachments, the manifestations of which can develop a life of its own and take new meanings including Arianism and Homoousion. It is a perpetual mental struggle without resolution unless the cognitive functions on which they are based are changed or modified.

I wish our bible scholars of the Theological Seminary at AU luck in its resolution of the trinity.

The reason “the theologians simply cleave to the scriptures” is compelling evidence of mental development and maturity. One simply cannot “cleave” to any concept without growing in mental stature and understanding and the growth of understanding has a developmental pathway of its own, influenced by a number of factors. A person does not grow up in a vacuum. This is what I meant by developmental issues.

EGW and her Great Controversy is a shining example of how understanding can be influenced by mental maturity and its developmental stages.

(jeremy) #20

if this is true - and i tend to agree that it is, at least subliminally - it is understandable why our seminary is making such an effort with this trinity project…but on the other hand, isn’t this a bit late…why didn’t they launch it sooner, particularly in centers like africa, where the misogynist culture predisposes everyone to intuitive anti-trinitarianism…shouldn’t the seminary have seen that a proper understanding of the trinity may have averted san antonio…

i think our academics might consider infusing their expertise into the practical dynamics of our church more proactively…for instance, a proper understanding of original sin, the sinless fallen human nature of christ, and justification-only salvation would totally topple the LGT mvt in our midst…it would also shed light on why a gay sexual orientation doesn’t undo the biblical proscriptions against homosexuality…my understanding is that original sin, the nature of christ, and justification-only salvation are being shied away from because of a fear of a conservative backlash, which is ridiculous…surely at least some conservatives would rethink their position if our seminary were able to make a convincing case…

the obvious flaw in your reasoning here is that one of the qualities of divinity is infinite timelessness - infinite projection into the past and future…if jesus is a begotten son in the way our sons are, he loses this quality of timeless existence in terms of infinite projection into the past, and therefore cannot be divine…this contradicts plain scripture, eg., Isa 9:6; Rev 1:11; Rev 22: 12-13; Jn 1:1-2; 1Jn 1:1 (texts like Isa 9:6 and Jn 4:24 suggests that at least some of the titles of deity are fluid)…

but the idea of a begotten son, in the sense that our sons are begotten, suffers further from the same weakness that necessarily afflicts the jehovah’s witnesses…that is, if there was a time in which there was a divine father, but not a divine son, it means the divine father wasn’t always a father…this means god the father as father is also less than infinitely timeless, in terms of infinite projection into the past…this contradicts the changeless aspect of god the father as father implied in James 1:17…

there is no way to logically refute trinitarianism without destroying the infinity of the godhead…of course the only way to attempt to understand it must of necessity rely on metaphor because there is nothing else that exists that is like it…but the possibility of attaching more meaning to the metaphor than can be sustained must be conceded at the outset, or we lapse into hopeless illogic and distortion of plain scripture…

(Allen Shepherd) #22

The doctrine of the trinity is important for at least two reasons.

  1. If Jesus is not God, then we really do not know what God is like. Jesus came to reveal the Father, because he was one with the Father, and said so numerous times. The OT does not have an individual who speaks as God to us (the prophets spoke for God, not as God) or that lived among us, thus experiencing life as we do (Heb. 2:14-18). If Jesus is not God, then he is like someone else, and we do not know what God is like.

  2. It shows that God takes responsibility for us and the universe. If one, after observing the situation here on earth, asks, “Who is responsible for this mess?” God answers, “I am.”, and is punished for it: He dies a most cruel and painful death. He gets his just deserts for his dereliction. In other words, God did not send another to bear the blame or take the steps necessary to solve the problem. He did not just sit up on his throne and pontificate to the hoi polloi and send another to do the dirty work. He came himself to see and understand and to suffer the consequences of creating a world where men could act freely. He took responsibility.

This two issues are the most important things about the trinitarian doctrine.

WO is not. And by linking it as the author does, he lessens its (the Trinitarian doctrine) impact. Not everything is about WO!

This is ridiculous. Male headship is very much part of scripture: (I Cor 11:3). And Male headship is not a heresy. You can say it was cultural back then, and we do not need to adhere to it, but it was practiced by Paul. I don’t have a problem with WO, but I do have a problem with calling the other side heretics. THAT is heretical. When such a positions is taken, it means that you are doing just as those did that would not let the west do as it thought best. Such a one is making WO a test of fellowship, and it is not so. It is a matter of culture.

We need to allow for freedom of action by both sides. If WO feel that male headship is heresy, they are in the same camp that say WO is sinful. There needs to be allowance for Christian liberty.

This assertion requires an answer.

God teaches by stories. The story of Adam and Eve. Of Abraham and Isaac. Of David and Goliath and Jonathan and Saul and Bathsheba, Peter and Andrew and John.

But why do it that way? Because stories can have different interpretations, and different people can see different concepts in them leading to diverse and wonderful insights. Whole books, sometimes even libraries of books have been written on just a few chapters, the insights are so numerous.

Stories are used because they have profundity and richness that simple assertions can never have. God treats us like adults, not children. Be thankful for that.

And don’t underestimate the intelligence of the average Joe or Jane.

(Bruce Clements) #23

Sixteen lectures to somehow logically explain the inexplicable??? This type of reasoning is on equal footing with that of the atheist who supposed refutes the existence of God by merely saying he hasn’t seen enough evidence. That is, but sides use logic to prove their point so clearly logic isn’t the answer and rational discourse cannot possibly resolve even the one purported mystery of a triune God, to say nothing of life’s other and more basic questions.
So are we doomed to never knowing why we are here and what God, no matter how divisible his nature, wants from us? Only if we refuse to accept the fact that humans are not, primarily, rational beings, and that, by extension, the same can be said about our creator. Otherwise one can rise above the reasonable but uncompelling arguments presented by any and all “-isms” to the contrary. In other words, the trick is to reject the merely logical words of both atheists–who can’t tell anyone anything about their "non-God–and any theist who claims that his God is beyond human understanding in order to see that God is as essentially emotional as we are, after which we can come to know God personally, without books, religion, logic or any other “rational” intermediary.

(Nic Samojluk) #24

“Let us no longer neglect the biblical doctrine of the Trinity.”

Our assumption is that the doctrine of the Trinity is solidly based on Scripture, when in reality we have accepted it because of a few statements made by Ellen White on this issue. This reminds me of what Elder Richards, the founder of the “It is Written” program once said when asked about this topic. He responded: “To prove the Trinity doctrine with the Bible is as difficult as nailing Jello to the wall.”

I used to study the Bible with Jehovah Witnesses when I was much younger, and I discovered that I could not use Ellen White writings with them. I was forced to stick to the Bible and found out that it is not easy to prove the Trinity doctrine with Scripture.

Then I found an enigmatic statement from the writings of Ellen White: “We want the Holy Spirit, which is Jesus Christ. If we commune with God, we shall have strength and grace and efficiency. {Lt66-1894.18}

My question is: If the Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ, then we have—not three—but only two members of the Godhead: God the Father and his Son.