On pages 124-125 of the WatchTower Society's "BIGGEST LIE" -- its largest and latest (even though nearly 30 years old) "history" book, known as the "PROCLAIMERS" book, under the subheading "Exposing the Trinity", reads as follows:

"As witnesses of Jehovah, C. T. Russell and his associates felt a keen responsibility to expose teachings that misrepresented God, to help lovers of truth realize that these are not based on the Bible. They were not the first to recognize that the Trinity is unscriptural, but they did appreciate that if they were to be faithful servants of God, they had a responsibility to make known the truth about it. Courageously, for the benefit of all lovers of truth, they laid bare the pagan roots of this central doctrine of Christendom.

"The Watch Tower of June 1882 stated: 'Many pagan philosophers finding that it would be policy to join the ranks of the rising religion [an apostate form of Christianity endorsed by Roman emperors in the fourth century C.E.], set about paving an easy way to it by trying to discover correspondencies between Christianity and Paganism, and so to blend the two together. They succeeded only too well. ... As the old theology had a number of chief gods, with many demi-gods of both sexes, the Pago-christians (if we may coin a word) set themselves to reconstruct the list for the new theology. At this time, therefore, the doctrine of three Gods was invented -- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.'"

There are several "things" going on in these two paragraphs that are not obvious to its readers.

First, ZION'S WATCH TOWER magazine (the correct name of the magazine back in 1882) had been published for THREE YEARS (since July 1879), and this is the first time that Charles Taze "Russell and his associates" had "felt a keen responsibility to expose" to ZWT readers "that the Trinity is unscriptural".

Second, the inclusion of the phrase "and his associates" was intentional here, because the ZWT article in which the BURIED and BRIEF denunciation of the Trinity occurs was contributed by William Mann, who disassociated himself and his extended family from Russell and ZWTTS in the latter 1890s.

Third, Mann (and the editors of "PROCLAIMERS") here assert that the Trinity Doctrine was "invented" in the 4th century -- after Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, AND by "pagan philosophers". Anyone who has done even a minimal amount of readings of the early church fathers knows that the Trinity Doctrine had been developing inside the Christian Church since the first century. Followers of Charles Taze Russell and his ZWTTS should have been the last people to call themselves "Bible Students" (just like the hoodlum followers of Joe Rutherford who called themselves "Jehovah's witnesses".)

PROCLAIMERS continued:

"Some of the clergy endeavored to give Biblical flavor to their teaching by quoting such texts as 1 John 5:7, but Brother Russell presented evidence showing that it was well-known by scholars that a portion of that text was an interpolation, a spurious insertion made by a scribe to support a teaching that is not found in the Scriptures. Other apologists for the Trinity appealed to John 1:1, but the Watch Tower analyzed that scripture on the basis of both content and context to show that this in no way supported belief in the Trinity. In harmony with this, in its issue of July 1883, the Watch Tower said: 'More Bible and less hymn-book theology would have made the subject clearer to all. The doctrine of the trinity is totally opposed to Scripture.'"

Once again, readers of PROCLAIMERS need to know what is going on here. Note what the July 1883 ZWT actually said:

"More Bible and less hymn-book theology would have made the subject clearer to all. The doctrine of the trinity is totally opposed to Scripture, and has not a single reasonable text to support it when the well-known interpretation of 1 John 5:7 is discarded and John 1:1 is understood. We suggest that any one who does not see this subject clearly should read carefully and prayerfully John 17."

Despite the insinuation in the first sentence of this quoted paragraph that Charles Taze Russell was the author of this July 1883 ZWT article, this article also was contributed by William Mann. It was not until the mid 1890s when the quote attributed to Russell in this next paragraph actually appeared in the ZWT and a newly published book. Instead of leading the "anti-Trinity" charge as indicated by the editors of PROCLAIMERS, Russell was slow if not late to the battle.

"Brother Russell outspokenly exposed the foolishness of professing to believe the Bible while at the same time teaching a doctrine such as the Trinity, which contradicts what the Bible says. Thus he wrote: 'In what a jumble of contradictions and confusion do they find themselves who say that Jesus and the Father are one God! This would involve the idea that our Lord Jesus acted the hypocrite when on earth and only pretended to address God in prayer, when He Himself was the same God. ... Again, the Father has always been immortal, hence could not die. How, then, could Jesus have died? The Apostles are all false witnesses in declaring Jesus' death and resurrection if He did not die. The Scriptures declare, however, that He did die.'"

In March 1885, in an UNSIGNED ZWT article (which we will assume was written by either Russell or his wife, Maria), in which multiple Orthodox Christian doctrines were attacked, the following brief shot was taken at the Trinity:

"For instance, the doctrine of the TRINITY is supported by only one text (part of 1 John 5:7,8) which, as is known by all intelligent teachers, is an interpolation found in no manuscript written before the tenth century, and evidently thrust in there, because that doctrine had no Scriptural basis."

Finally, in the November 1887 ZWT was published a lengthy UNSIGNED article which comprehensively covered the Trinity Doctrine, and outlined the position of Russell and the WatchTower Society.

In August 1888, Russell published another rambling anti-trinitarian article which had been authored by William Mann, which this editor will not even waste the time to attempt to analyse. I'm not that smart!


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Part 1: Historical Overview

By Jerry A. Moon, Ph.D.


Erwin R. Gane (BELOW) established that most of the leaders among the earliest Seventh-day Adventists held to an antitrinitarian theology. ... Gane's .. contention that most of the leading SDA pioneers were antitrinitarian in their theology has become accepted Adventist history. 

The development of the doctrine of the Godhead in Seventh-day Adventism may be divided into six periods: (1) Antitrinitarian Dominance, 1846-1888; (2) Dissatisfaction with Antitrinitarianism, 1888-1898; (3) Paradigm Shift, 1898-1913; (4) Decline of Antitrinitarianism, 1913-1946; (5) Trinitarian Dominance, 1946-1980; and (6) Renewed Tensions, 1980 to the Present. ...

Antitrinitarian Dominance, 1846-1888

From about 1846 to 1888, the majority of Adventists rejected the concept of the Trinity -- at least as they understood it. All the leading writers were antitrinitarian, although the literature contains occasional references to members who held trinitarian views. Ambrose C. Spicer, the father of General Conference President William Ambrose Spicer, had been a Seventh Day Baptist minister before his conversion to Adventism in 1874. He evidently remained trinitarian, because W. A. Spicer recounted to A. W. Spalding that his father "grew so offended at the anti-trinitarian atmosphere in Battle Creek that he ceased preaching." [10] S. B. Whitney had been trinitarian, but in the course of his indoctrination as an Adventist in 1861, became a convinced antitrinitarian. His experience gives evidence that at least some ministers taught antitrinitarianism as an essential element of the instruction of new converts.[11] R. F. Cottrell, on the other hand, wrote in the Review that while he disbelieved in the Trinity, he had never "preached against it" or previously written about it. [12] A third bit of evidence that not all were agreed on antitrinitarianism was the remark of D. T. Bourdeau in 1890: "Although we claim to be believers in, and worshipers of, only one God, I have thought that there are as many gods among us as there are conceptions of the Deity." [13]

Those who rejected the traditional Trinity doctrine of the Christian creeds were devout believers in the biblical testimony regarding the eternity of God the Father, the deity of Jesus Christ "as Creator, Redeemer and Mediator," and the "importance of the Holy Spirit." [14] While some, very early in Adventist history, held that Christ had been created, [15] by 1888 it was widely accepted that he had preexisted from "so far back in the days of eternity that to finite comprehension" he was "practically without beginning." Whatever that beginning may have involved, it was not by "creation." [16] Moreover, they weren't initially convinced that the Holy Spirit was an individual divine Person and not merely an expression for the divine presence, power, or influence.

"Respecting the trinity, I concluded that it was an impossible for me to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, was also the Almighty God, the Father, one and the same being," wrote Joseph Bates regarding his conversion in 1827. He told his father, "If you can convince me that we are one in this sense, that you are my father, and I your son; and also that I am your father, and you my son, then I can believe in the trinity." Because of this difference, he chose to join the Christian Connection rather than the Congregational church of his parents. [17] One might be tempted to dismiss Bates's assessment as simple ignorance of the meaning of Trinity, but there were then and remain today a variety of views claiming the term "Trinity." Cottrell observed in 1869 that there were "a multitude of views " on the Trinity, "all of them orthodox, I suppose, as long as they nominally assent to the doctrine." [18]

The early Adventists set forth at least six reasons for their rejection of the term "Trinity". The first was that they did not see biblical evidence for three persons in one Godhead. This was not a new objection.[19] In its simplest form, the concept of Trinity is the result of affirming, on the authority of Scripture, both the "oneness" and the "threeness" of God, despite human inability to fully understand the personal, divine Reality those terms point to. How this can be explained has been the subject of much thought and speculation over the centuries. The influence of Greek philosophy on the doctrinal developments of early and medieval Christian history is well known. [20]

A second reason the early Adventists gave for rejecting the Trinity was the misconception that it made the Father and the Son identical. We have already noted Bates's testimony, "Respecting the trinity, I concluded that it was impossible for me to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, was also the Almighty God, the Father, one and the same being." [21] D. W. Hull, J. N. Loughborough, S. B. Whitney, and D. M. Canright shared this view. [22] The concept that the Father and Son are identical approximates an ancient heresy called Modalist Monarchianism, or Sabellianism (after Sabellius, one of its third-century proponents). Modalists "held that in the Godhead the only differentiation was a mere succession of modes or operations." Modalists denied the threeness of God and asserted that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not separate personalities. [23]

A third and opposite objection to the Trinity doctrine was based on the misconception that it teaches the existence of three Gods. "If Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are each God, it would be three Gods," wrote Loughborough in 1861. [24]

A fourth view was that belief in the Trinity would diminish the value of the atonement. [25] Since the "everliving, self-existent God" cannot die, then if Christ had self-existence as God, he couldn't have died on Calvary, they reasoned. If only his humanity died, then his sacrifice was only a human one, inadequate for redemption. [26] Thus, in order to protect the reality of his death on the cross, the early Adventists felt they had to deny that Christ in his preexistence possessed divine immortality. However logical that reasoning may have seemed to some, its basic premises were flatly rejected by Ellen White in 1897. She averred that when Jesus died on the cross, "Deity did not die. Humanity died." [27] Her influence on Adventist readers, and their confidence in the source of her information was such that the implications of such a pronouncement could not be ignored, giving Adventist scholars one more reason to reassess their basic paradigm regarding the Godhead.

Fifth, the fact that Christ is called "Son of God" and "the beginning of the creation of God" (Rev 3:14) was thought to prove that he must be of more recent origin than God the Father. [28] Sixth, it was argued that "there are various expressions concerning the Holy Spirit which would indicate that it [sic] couldn't properly be considered as a person, such as its being "shed abroad" in the heart [Rom. 5:5], and 'poured out upon all flesh' [Joel 2:28]." [29] These arguments, however, depended on giving a very literal interpretation to expressions that could also be seen as figures of speech. These arguments made sense within an overall antitrinitarian paradigm, but when that paradigm was called into question, these points were recognized as being capable of fitting either interpretation.

None of these is a valid objection to the basic trinitarian concept of one God in three Persons.[30] Yet all of them were based on biblical texts. Adventists eventually changed their view of the Godhead because they came to a different understanding of the biblical texts.

Dissatisfaction with Antitrinitarianism, 1888-1898

The focus of the 1888 General Conference session on "Christ our righteousness" and the consequent exaltation of the cross of Christ called into serious question whether a subordinate, derived divinity could adequately account for the saving power of Christ. E. J. Waggoner urged the necessity of A set[ting] forth Christ's rightful position of equality with the Father, in order that His power to redeem may be the better appreciated. " [31] While by 1890 Waggoner had not yet fully grasped Christ's infinitely eternal preexistence, [32] he argued convincingly that Christ was not created, that "He has 'life in Himself' [John 10:17]; He possesses immortality in His own right." Waggoner insisted on "the Divine unity of the Father and the Son" and averred that Christ is "by nature of the very substance of God, and having life in Himself, He is properly called Jehovah, the self-existent One (Jer 23:56), "who is on an equality with God" (Phil 2:6, ARV), "having all the attributes of God." [33] Waggoner was not yet fully trinitarian, but he saw clearly that a more exalted conception of Christ's work of redemption demanded a higher conception of his being as Deity. "The fact that Christ is a part of the Godhead, possessing all the attributes of Divinity, being the equal of the Father in all respects, as Creator and Lawgiver, is the only force there is in the atonement. ... Christ died 'that He might bring us to God' (1 Peter 3:18); but if He lacked one iota of being equal to God, He could not bring us to Him." [34] The force of this logic leads inevitably to the recognition of Christ's full equality in preexistence as well.

Thus, the dynamic of righteousness by faith and its consequences for the doctrine of God provides the historical context for the provocative comment of D. T. Bourdeau that "although we claim to be believers in, and worshipers of, only one God, I have thought that there are as many gods among us as there are conceptions of the Deity." [35] Such a comment from a highly respected evangelist and missionary seems to indicate that the collective confidence in the antitrinitarian paradigm was showing some cracks. Further evidence that this was so appeared two years later in 1892, when Pacific Press published a pamphlet titled "The Bible Doctrine of the Trinity," by Samuel T. Spear. The pamphlet corrected two prevailing misconceptions of the Trinity doctrine, showing that it "is not a system of tri-theism, or the doctrine of three Gods, but it is the doctrine of one God subsisting and acting in three persons, with the qualification that the term 'person' ... is not, when used in this relation, to be understood in any sense that would make it inconsistent with the unity of the Godhead." [36]

In 1898, Uriah Smith prepared Looking Unto Jesus, the most comprehensive and carefully nuanced exposition of the nontrinitarian view among Adventists. Smith emphatically repudiated his earlier view that Christ had been created, but still held that "God [the Father] alone is without beginning. At the earliest epoch when a beginning could be a period so remote that to finite minds it is essentially eternity, appeared the Word." Through some means not clearly revealed in Scripture, Christ had been "brought forth," "begotten," or "by some divine impulse or process, not creation," Christ had been given existence by the Father. In one paragraph Smith comes surprisingly close to a trinitarian statement: "This union between the Father and the Son does not detract from either, but strengthens both. Through it, in connection with the Holy Spirit, we have all of Deity." [37] But this slow struggle toward a fuller understanding was eclipsed by the bold declarations of The Desire of Ages, published in the same year. Desire of Ages produced a paradigm shift in Adventists' perceptions of the Godhead.


[10] A. W. Spalding to H. C. Lacey, June 2, 1947, Adventist Heritage Center, Andrews University.

[11] Seymour B. Whitney, "Both Sides," Review and Herald, Feb. 25 and Mar. 4, 1862, 101-103, 109-111.

[12] R. F. Cottrell, "The Doctrine of the Trinity," Review and Herald, June 1, 1869.

[13] D. T. Bourdeau, "We May Partake of the Fullness of the Father and the Son," Review and Herald, Nov 18, 1890, 707.

[14] Gane, 109.

[15] E.g., Uriah Smith, Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Revelation (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1865), 59. He later repudiated this view (idem, Looking Unto Jesus [Battle Creek: Review and Herald, 1898], 12, 17).

[16] E. J. Waggoner, Christ and His Righteousness (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press, 1890), 21-22; cf. Uriah Smith, Looking Unto Jesus, 12, 17.

[17] Joseph Bates, The Autobiography of Elder Joseph Bates (Battle Creek, MI: SDA Publishing, 1868), 205.

[18] Cottrell, "The Doctrine of the Trinity."

[19] The names of Arius, Servetus, and Socinus come to mind. Deut 6:4 clearly teaches that God is one, but while the writer could have used the term yahd to denote a solitary one, the term chosen was the Hebrew eehad, which denotes a composite "one" or one of a group, in contrast to a solitary or emphatic "one." The same word, eehad, is used in Gen 2:24 for the unity of husband and wife, who become "one," but within that oneness, still retain their individuality (Woodrow Whidden, "The Strongest Bible Evidence for the Trinity," in The Trinity: Understanding God's Love, His Plan of Salvation, and Christian Relationships, Woodrow Whidden, Jerry Moon, and John Reeve [Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2002], 33-34). An extended discussion of the biblical evidence is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that both the OT and NT contain indications that the One God is not merely solitary, and the NT explicitly refers to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see, e.g., Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14) (ibid., 21-117).

[20] See Jerry Moon, "The Trinity in the Reformation Era: Four Viewpoints," in The Trinity: Understanding God's Love, His Plan of Salvation, and Christian Relationships, Woodrow Whidden, Jerry Moon, and John Reeve (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2002), 166-181.

[21] Bates, 205.

[22] Gane, 104.

[23] F. L. Cross, ed., Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2d ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), s.v. "Monarchianism" (see also s.v. "Modalism" and "Sabellianism").

[24] J. N. Loughborough, "Questions for Bro. Loughborough," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 18 (Nov. 5, 1861), 184.

[25] Gane, 105.

[26] J. H. Waggoner, The Atonement (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press, 1884), 173. Smith makes a similar argument in Looking Unto Jesus, 23.

[27] E. G. White, Manuscript 131, 1897, quoted in SDA Bible Commentary, ed. Francis D. Nichol (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1954), 5:1113. Later she wrote again, "Humanity died: divinity did not die" (idem., "The Risen Savior," Youth's Instructor, August 4, 1898, paragraph 1).

[28] Uriah Smith, Thoughts on the Book of Daniel and the Revelation (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald, 1882), 487; idem, Looking Unto Jesus, 10.

[29] Uriah Smith, "In the Question Chair," Review and Herald, March 23, 1897, 188.

[30] The term "person" as applied to God indicates a being with personality, intellect, and will. Unlike the multiple gods of polytheism, the three persons of the biblical Godhead are profoundly "one in purpose, in mind, in character, but not in person." Thus, despite their individuality, they are never divided, never in conflict, and thus constitute not three gods, but one God.

[31] Waggoner, 19.

[32] Ibid., 21-22.

[33] Ibid., 22-23, 25.

[34] Ibid., 44.

[35] Bourdeau, 707.

[36] Samuel T. Spear, The Bible Doctrine of the Trinity, Bible Students' Library, no. 90 (March 1892), 3-14, reprinted from New York Independent, November 14, 1889.

[37] Smith, Looking Unto Jesus, 3, 10, 17, esp. 13.

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Historical Reflections on Early [Seventh-Day] Adventist Anti-Trinitarianism

Dr. Kai Arasola


The prevalence of anti-Trinitarianism in early Seventh-day Adventism has been well documented. The purpose of this essay is to look for reasons, the historical background for the Adventist views. It discusses two unrelated historical perspectives: The Restorationist movement of the 19th century America which contributed to the Adventist rejection of the Trinity, and the historical interpretation of the prophecies which further convinced them that doctrines that were slow in development represent apostasy.

Two of the leading Adventists pioneers came from an anti-Trinitarian Restorationist background but all of them lived in a theological climate permeated with doubts concerning the Trinity. While Arianism never was an official doctrine of the movement it was taught in numerous articles until, after about three decades, the church gradually moved closer to mainline Protestantism.

Historicist prophetic interpretation was the foundation on which the young Adventist church was building its doctrines. The identification of papacy or Roman Catholicism as the antichrist was central for the early Adventist hermeneutic. Their views on the Trinity were further confirmed by the fact that Trinitarianism took several centuries to develop and the early Adventists identified it as a Roman Catholic doctrine.

The last part of this essay seeks to stimulating discussion and debate on the Trinity and on the important formative years of Adventism. It includes some reflections and questions on the Trinitarian creeds as well as on the related Biblical data. The latter, rather than historical considerations, must in the end be the Adventist paradigm for understanding the Godhead.

The prevalence of anti-Trinitarianism in early Seventh-day Adventism has been well documented since Erwin Gane's ground-breaking research on the topic more than four decades ago.[i] Russell Holt, LeRoy Edwin Froom, Merlin Burt, Jerry Moon, and others built on and substantiated Erwin Gane's conclusions.[ii] It is now understood that that not only Joseph Bates, James White, or the well known case of Uriah Smith, represent Adventist anti-Trinitarian sentiments but that virtually all key Adventist pioneers including J.N. Andrews, Daniel Bourdeau, D. M. Canright, Hiram Edson, D. W. Hull, J. N. Loughborough, E.J. Waggoner, J.H. Waggoner, and S. B. Whitney, held views varying from mildly Arian (Christ not eternal but born at a point of time) to a full rejection of Trinitarianism. The one notable exception was Ellen G. White and even her orthodoxy during the pre-1888 phase of Adventism has been questioned at times.[iii]

The first part of this exploration discusses the Restorationist movement which was an important part of the intellectual and theological climate of 19th century America. This is followed by a short overview of the historical development of Trinitarianism to provide further background for early SDA comments on the Trinity. Both sections are interspersed with samples of Adventist pioneers' comments, in particular ones which reflect historical reasons behind their rejection of the Trinity.

The final part is intended to stimulate discussion on Adventism and the Trinity. It presents the traditional creeds as the standard definitions of the Trinity and presents questions and reflections related to the Biblical data which, rather than historical considerations, must be the ultimate Adventist paradigm for understanding the Godhead.

The purpose of this research is to provide examples and illustrations and possible clues that may help understand the early Adventist position on the Trinity. They are not presented as a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the topic but as insights or stimuli for discussion and debate on the important formative years of Sabbatarian Adventism.

Why Anti-Trinitarianism -- Theological Restorationism

The America of the pioneers can be characterised as a time of reformatory idealism. "Men of seemingly sober judgment expressed repeatedly their confidence that Christians could remake society in the United States according to a pattern fashioned in heaven" is Timothy L. Smith's assessment of the reformist culture that permeated Ante-Bellum America. Restorationism contributed to the rise of several churches and religious movements including Seventh-day Adventism.[iv] While his description limits the reforms to restructuring the social order, banishing poverty, eliminating the curse of drunkenness, elevating womanhood, freeing the slaves or providing equal opportunities for education, the movement extended also well into the theological and religious sphere. Winthrop S. Hudson observes that this "reforming idealism" was so integral to the American religious ferment of the early 19th century that it did not leave theology untouched. [v]

Restorationism, sometimes called Christian primitivism, is a descriptive title for any religious movement which believes that it represents the essence of what it would mean to bring Christianity back to its original form and ideals. In the context of North America the term is applied in particular to a widespread indigenous American phenomenon that started towards the end of the 18th century with the Second Great Awakening and culminated in the rise of a wide range of revivals and churches that represent the full spectrum of 19th century American religiosity. The so called Christian Churches or Connexionists are usually thought to represent the essence of Restorationism. Connexionism grew into thousands of independent churches and had by 1850s up to half a million supporters. [vi] 

However, the full picture of Restorationism is much wider. It had a powerful effect on the established mainline churches and contributed to the rise of several religious groups that represented the wide spectrum of American 19th century religiosity. Unitarians, Millerites and Adventists, Latter day Saints, the Watchtower Society, and, a little later, the Pentecostals all represent the huge impact of Restorationism. [vii]

Interestingly, many supporters of the Christian Connexion endorsed Millerism. [viii] This is no surprise because William Miller's teachings, though a Baptist, reflect Restorationist ideals. For example, his Rules of Interpretation [ix] are a good example of a typical Restorationist do-it-yourself approach to the Scriptures and his hermeneutic shows a deep distrust in established church-endorsed views. [x]

The Restorationist movement's unwritten ambition was to do to Protestantism what the Reformation had done to Catholicism. Restorationists were distrustful of church organisations and of creeds and while, in general, they did not go for clear-cut doctrinal definitions, they had over the early part of the 19th century increasingly turned against Trinitarianism. [xi] Joshua V. Himes, a Christian Church minister, became William Miller's key associate, publisher, travel organiser and congress manager, and his role in Millerism may have been an added attraction that led Connexionists to join Millerite ranks. [xii] Furthermore, significantly for the topic, two founding fathers of Sabbatarian Adventism, Joseph Bates and James White were both Connexionists. [xiii] Joseph Bates had joined his wife's New Bedford Christian Church in 1827 [xiv] and James White was baptised in his parents' Palmyra Christian Church at the age of 15 or 16. 

While secondary to the topic, it is interesting to note that Adventist historians frequently suggest that the events of 1842, when the established churches rejected Millerism, contributed to the anti-creedal and anti-organisational spirit of early Sabbatarian Adventism. [xv] However, it is equally logical to suggest that these views match squarely the credophobic and organization-shunning Connexionist background of the two leading Adventist pioneers. In fact, it is possible to postulate that the overall doctrinal development of Adventism, including their endorsement of, for example, the Sabbath, conditional immortality, or health reform, grew out of the general Restorationist spirit of the times. [xvi]

The Present Truth Concept

"Present Truth", a favourite theological concept in early Sabbatarian Adventism, represents the heart of the Restorationist spirit in Adventism. It was no accident that James White chose Present Truth as the title of one of his pioneering publications. The concept implies two ideas. First of all, they believed, that what is taught must be timely, absolutely relevant. "It is clear that we have reached the time when a flood of light is shining from God's word on the path of the just, and that this light relates to that great event which is immediately impending -- the coming of the Lord, and to a preparation to meet it. This we denominate present truth, because it applies to the present time, and is adapted to the wants of the present generation; and it is through this truth that the last church will be sanctified." [xvii]

This relevancy was based on theological discovery and dependant on prophecy to show what was important in the last days. Faith in the nearness of the Second Coming underlined the need to proclaim the Sabbath, the state of the dead, or the Sanctuary. However, Adventist pioneers accepted the possibility that there may be Biblical truths that were important at an earlier point in history but not part of the "Present Truth" today. This implies a hierarchy of Biblical teachings. James White stated that there is a truth for each epoch in World history, one for Peter's time and one for the last days. [xviii]

However, a further important meaning of the "Present Truth" concept was that only genuine and original Biblical teachings represent truth and therefore nothing but an authentic truth can be Present Truth. This is at the heart of Restorationism. The search was not only for what was relevant but also for what was authentic. A doctrine which had been formulated after the days of the apostles could never be Present Truth. Therefore, "Present Truth" implies a determination to reform the landscape of Christianity from the existing formality into what was original.

Falseness of a late doctrine was an important part of early Adventist argumentation for the Sabbath. The early church kept Saturday but "Romanism" converted the day of rest to Sunday. [xix] Similarly they saw conditionalism as a clear Biblical doctrine which had been replaced by "pagan" immortality of the soul. Baptism was seen in the same light. The negative development of Christian teachings was, they believed, confirmed by Biblical prophecy. Church councils and creeds had no authority for them and they considered Trinitarianism a post-biblical doctrine which had received its inspiration from Rome. [xx]

Creeds Considered Oppressive

Creedal development begins with simple Biblical confessions of faith. Over the centuries, due to pressures from the Greek rather than the Hebrew mindset, basic confessions of faith grew into intricate carefully worded creeds. The more carefully the Christian doctrines were defined the more suitable they were for causing damage when used as tools of persecution.

As a simple example, one may claim that all Christians of all centuries could probably endorse a broad statement like "Jesus is Lord" (Rom. 10.9). The Adventists clearly understood that issues became much more difficult when small details were brought into the equation. As a historical case in point, one may think of the Trinitarian or Christological word debates centering on words like hypostasis, homoousios, homoiousios, ousia, logos asarkos vs. logos ensarkos which were central in the development of Trinitarianism. Not all church fathers understood these words in the same way, and they were frequently tools of repression and persecution instead of salvation. [xxi] Because he used the wrong word to express Christ's nature Apollinaris of Laodicea, a staunch supporter of the Nicene Creed, ended up anathema. Nestorius made the mistake of refusing to use the word "theotokos" and his whole history might have been different had he sooner come across the term "christotokos" which he used later. [xxii]

It is uncertain how well the early Adventists knew the details of this historical development. It is clear, however, that for a Restorationist (Connexionist) frame of mind minutely defined Christianity was totally unacceptable, and what they knew only strengthened them in their conviction that creedal definitions reflected apostasy. They were convinced that the Bible needs to be interpreted individually within a framework of freedom with the broadest possible formal definitions of doctrine -- if any at all.

John Loughborough stated this rather bluntly: "The first step of apostasy is set up a creed ..." [xxiii] While this comment was done in the context of church organisation it still reflects the spirit of the times.

James White agreed. "Now I take the ground that creeds stand in a direct opposition to the gifts." [xxiv] "Let us suppose a case: We set up a creed, stating just what we shall believe on this point and the other, and just what we shall do in reference to this thing and that, and say that we will believe the gifts, too." [xxv] Creeds were thought of as the end of the pursuit for genuine, original faith.

Walter Scragg explains the early Adventist attitude: "... they felt [Christian churches] had calcified their beliefs in ... creedal statements, and [had] fought to defend those statements rather than embark on fresh searches for biblical understanding and truth. The Reformation remained incomplete because it was held back by creeds." [xxvi]

At this point one may ask again the question what the Adventist pioneers knew about Church history, in particular, concerning the development of Trinitarianism. There are good reasons to assume that they were not totally ignorant because, as will be shown later, their views on prophetic interpretation had, since the days of William Miller, inspired them to study the rise and impact and meaning of the papacy. Furthermore, their Sabbatarian convictions made them research church history for evidence on the change from Sabbath to Sunday. Their comments on creeds also imply some awareness of the Trinitarian struggles of the first Christians centuries. The simplest evidence for this is John Loughborough's comments above on creeds as a tool of persecution, and a good historical example is found in the history of Athanasius and Arius. The former was banished 5 times for his views and he spent 17 out of 45 years in exile as the patriarch of Alexandria, [xxvii] while his main opponent, Arius, was banished two or three times.xxviii Of course, history is full of further examples.

The culture and spirit of early Adventists (including those pioneers who had no Connexionist background) was so resolute against creeds that it was hard for James White to gain support even for the most basic and simple statement of faith needed at the time when the movement took its first organisational steps. If a confessional statement, "Those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus," was too much for many of the early Adventists, it is no surprise that the long Trinitarian creeds were symbols of apostasy and spiritual repression for them. [xxix]

Restorationism and General Theological Trend

One more question needs to be asked. Many Adventist pioneers came from traditionally Trinitarian backgrounds but they appear to have given up their Trinitarianism easily. Why? The reason might, of course, lie in the persuasiveness of Joseph Bates and James White, but a further possible reason can be seen in the general spirit of the times.

Traditionally, there had been a fairly strong Unitarian base in Boston. [xxx] Unitarians (like Connexionists and Millerites) had a distaste for organised churches and established creeds. [xxxi] In 1819, William Channing was catapulted to prominence for expressing Unitarian views in a sermon in Baltimore. His articles and speeches appealed to those with a somewhat liberal but at the same time reformatory bent. Many Congregationalist churches split off from their mother church to become Unitarian. Ralph Waldo Emerson added interest to this Unitarian opposition to the Trinity by his speech at the graduation of Harvard Divinity School in 1838. Further examples could be cited but it is obvious that Restorationist anti-Trinitarianism was affecting even traditional churches and a critical anti-orthodox mindset was fashionable and modern. [xxxii]

John W. Gaston III describes how the "liberal" doctrine of Unitarianism was attractive to many Anglicans and Methodists in New England. [xxxiii] This means that just at the time when Sabbatarian Adventism was formulating its beliefs Arianism was exceptionally strong in American traditionally Trinitarian churches. It is no surprise that even those pioneers who came from a Baptist, Methodist, or Congregationalist background also shifted to anti-Trinitarian positions.

The theological ambience of the early 19th century reflected a reaction against the old Puritan conservatism. Whether it stemmed from the Restorationist movement or simply from people getting tired of the carefully worded and argued dogmas of Protestant Orthodoxy, there was a strong reaction against the old theology, and American Christians were ready to break new ground. It probably indicates a result of this trend rather than its cause, but it has been claimed that the least known and most important theological development of the turn of the century was the discontinuance of the more than one hundred year old tradition of using Turrentin's massive three volume Institutes of Elentic Theology as the main textbook for Systematic Theology in most ivy league and other respectable American seminaries. Many questioned the old theology and it can be argued that while the Adventist pioneers may well have been wrong in their approach to the doctrine of the Trinity, it seems they sensed well the spirit of their times. It was not necessary to come from an Arian group to turn against Trinitarianism.

Survey of the development of Trinitarianism

Anyone looking at the development of Trinitarianism recognises its long and tumultuous history. It took about three centuries before the doctrine of Trinity was formulated and a further three centuries were needed to iron out the details and conclude the major Christological controversies. The development and expressions of the Trinity were slightly different in the eastern and the western parts of the empire because, as Rodney Stark persuasively argues, there were more Christians with a Jewish background in the east and they, coming from a passionately monotheistic background, had a harder time in coming to terms with a concept like the Trinity. [xxxiv]

In the struggle to define the Trinity the Bible frequently played a secondary role. As soon as the Romans had stopped persecuting Christians, the Christian started persecuting or excommunicating each other, and people who, while claiming Biblical support for their ideas, somehow ended up using the wrong expressions about the Godhead. For example, St. Hippolytos, one of the most learned Christian teachers of early 3rd Century, expositor of prophecy and defender of Trinitarian ideas against Monarchianism, was accused by Kallistos, bishop of Rome, of being a worshipper of two gods. [xxxv] It was not easy for the Church to move out of the Palestinian realm and translate Biblical thought into a form intelligible to a Greek mindset. Many of the Trinitarian conflicts were clashes between the Jewish and the Greek modes of thinking. [xxxvi]

Those involved with church history know how complex was the struggle for Trinitarianism. Students frequently find overwhelming the large number of people, church councils, heresies, creeds, or key words related to the various stages of Trinitarian development. In this complex history some who are now credited for their significant contributions towards a fully fledged doctrine of the Trinity, have also been accused of heresy. For example, Irenaeus was blamed for Modalism because he in some of his statements implied that the one God appears in the form of the Son and the Spirit. God, he states, "is both the Father and the Son." [xxxvii] However, he does in some other statements make a clear distinction between God and Jesus. But, as this illustration shows, it is often very difficult to decipher the full picture of the historical situation. [xxxviii]

One may take another example, Tertullian, the apologist and church father who first introduced the term Trinity. [xxxix] He was also the first of the Latin Fathers and thus originator of Latin theology. This, of course, was extremely significant for the Adventist pioneers who identified Rome with apostasy as well as with the persecuting horn of Daniel and the beast and Babylon of Revelation. While they do not mention Tertullian by name, the principal is very clear. As far as they were concerned the Trinity and apostasy came from the same source. The terms Tertullian used are significant: "substance" and "person", and his logic to support the unity of the Godhead through expressions like "una substantia" and "una dominatio" are decisive in the developing understanding of God.[xl] What Trinitarians think of as significant steps in the development of the doctrine probably appeared the very opposite to early Adventists who, as it appears, did not even want to consider the meaning of the basic Trinitarian definitions like: Three persons, one substance, and still there is but one God. [xli]

In the east Origen developed the Logos doctrine much further than the Apologists and he was also responsible for authoring the first Christian book on dogmatics. Origen's scholarship and work on a definition of God represent an important theological development. However, it has also been claimed that he paved the way for Arianism, [xlii] because he defined God the Father as the source of the Deity. On the other hand, he also stated, "Nothing in the Trinity is to be called greater or less, since the fountain of one divinity holds all his parts by word and reason." [xliii]

The first serious threat to the evolving Trinitarianism developed in the East at first but spread quickly throughout the empire causing great excitement in the churches. Starting at the end of the second century, Modalistic Monarchianism engaged all the great doctors of Christianity in a battle against it. Tertullian, Origen, Novatian, and Hippolytos had to draw on their most persuasive logic to stem the rise of this perceived heresy. [xliv]

The next significant development in the process took place at the School of Antioch where first highly revered Lucian of Samosata combined the Logos doctrine with Adoptionism. After his martyrdom many of his students were selected to important positions in the church and the best known among them, Arius, began his own fight for an Adoptionist form of Logos Christology in Alexandria. According to his view, the Son is a torch lighted at the torch of the Father. [xlv] God alone, he claimed, is unbegotten, without beginning and eternal, inexpressible and incomprehensible. Jesus on the other hand is what he is by the grace and adoption of God. [xlvi]

The struggle related to Arianism is among the roughest in early church history. Excommunications, political lobbying; anything but Biblical data swayed the events. In the midst of the Arian conflicts Apollinaris of Laodicea was the first to express the Trinitarian doctrine with reasonable accuracy. However, because he placed such heavy emphasis on the divine logos in Jesus, "God was made flesh", he in due course came to be considered a Docetist and ended up condemned of heresy. The formulation used by his students, the three great Cappadocians, represents the final eastern relational understanding of the Trinity: "We are to believe in one God, because we are to believe in one divine substance or essence (ousia) in three subjects or persons (hypostasis)". With the work of the Cappadocians the Eastern Church had come to the end of its Trinitarian understanding, expressed first in the Nicene and finalized in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creeds. [xlvii]

About the same time in the west, Hilary of Poitiers (A.D. 356) completed his book On the Trinity to be followed half a century later by Augustine's masterly work on the same subject. [xlviii] Augustine conveyed the doctrine in contrasts and paradoxes, typical of the western understanding, also reflected in the so-called Athanasian Creed (5th Century).

Adventist Views on Trinitarian History

One of the most substantial reasons for the Adventist pioneers' opposition to the Trinity was historical. James White stated that Trinity was based on the "old creed" and therefore not part of genuine original Christianity. The primary point in this is that he thought everything which was formulated after apostolic times was apostasy. He made references to Sunday, state of the dead, purgatory, and reverence to saints or other Catholic doctrines, and connected the Trinity to this same development because it took centuries before the doctrine was fully defined. This is understandable as Adventist pioneers were fully fledged Restorationists who believed in a return to genuinely original apostolic Christianity.[xlix]

That the Trinity was identified as a Catholic doctrine is reflected in D. W. Hull's statement in the Review in 1859. His two-part article on the doctrine of divinity comments on the Nicene Creed in an interesting way. "The doctrine was established by the Council of Nice, A.D. 325, and ever since that period, persons not believing this particular tenet, have been denounced by popes and priests, as dangerous heretics. It was for disbelief in this doctrine, that the Arians were anathematised in A.D. 513." He implies that what the papacy endorsed should be regarded unbiblical and what they condemned, the truth as he proceeds to connect the Trinity with papacy, the "man of sin" and deplores the persecution of those who taught more Biblically.

Creeds, the Adventist pioneers thought, expressed the Catholic faith. Furthermore, creeds took time to develop and therefore could not represent genuine Biblical truths. Adventism started its gradual shift towards Trinitarianism late in 1870's and it took two or three decades. Many of the church's new converts came from Trinitarian Protestant churches and it is possible the change to Trinitarianism contributed to the rising growth rates of the Seventh-day Adventist church in late 19th Century.

Misunderstanding the Trinity

It is interesting that some of the Adventist pioneers make references to the Trinity that confuse Trinitarianism with three of the major heresies that relate to the development of the Trinity. This may be an indication that in the end their knowledge of what the Trinity means was not very well founded. Docetism was a Gnostic heresy and extremely popular because Gnosticism was so widespread. It taught that Christ was a spirit and his body was an illusion that people were made to see. [li] Modalism presented one God appearing in three forms. This was an attractive heresy because it made God understandable and it spread like wildfire during the 3rd century. It also compelled Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytos and others to use all their persuasive powers to keep it at bay. Finally there was tritheism, popular in the eastern parts of the empire, around the time of and after the Trinity had been defined in Nicea (325) and Constantinople (371). John of Damascus and Johannes Piloponus are usually cited as prime examples.[lii]

Docetism - J.B. Frisbie

J. B. Frisbie identifies what he calls the "Sabbath God" and the "Sunday God." The Biblical Sabbath God is not only a Spirit, but also a personal "Being" with a face, hand or other body parts. Referring to creedal expressions in the Catholic Catechism or Methodist literature, he then defines the (non-Biblical) "Sunday God" and suggests that this Trinitarian God is a spirit only and not real and concrete because He is based on ideas which "well accord with those heathen philosophers." [liii]

Admittedly, Frisbie's argument is anything but clear and to classify it under Docetism is doubtful. But if the "Sunday God" is spirit only, it is possible that he thought that for Trinitarians not only God the Father but also Jesus was a somewhat unreal spirit being. In any case Frisbie's understanding of the ontological definition that relate to the Trinity are seriously flawed.

Modalistic Monarchianism - Joseph Bates

Frisbie was not the only Adventist pioneer who had totally misunderstood the Trinity. Joseph Bates wrote regarding his conversion in 1827, "Respecting the trinity, I concluded that it was impossible for me to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, was also the Almighty God, the Father, one and the same being." [liv] In other words, he rejected the Trinity on the claim that it made the Father and the Son identical.

This is an important typical early Adventist anti-Trinitarian statement. However, Bates' argument is not against the Trinity but against the Monarchianist concept that the Father and the Son are one and the same person. The statement shows that Bates' understanding of the Trinity was faulty and he condemned what the ancient church and all Trinitarians already condemned as a heresy [lv] because proper Trinitarianism specifically teaches that while the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one, they must also be distinguished as separate persons.

As a note related to the previous examples, one may observe that all Trinitarian heresies were based on an effort to make an incomprehensible and unexplainable Christian God understandable. Adventist pioneers who knew something of the struggles related to the doctrine of Trinity were clearly unaware of what Trinitarianism meant and gave preference to understandable but traditionally heretical versions of the concept of God.

Tritheism and John Loughborough

Another example of an Adventist pioneer rejecting as Trinitarianism what all Trinitarians would also reject as heresy was John Loughborough. In 1861 he wrote that he cannot believe in the Trinity because it implies the existence of three Gods. "If Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are each God, it would be three Gods." [lvi]

It is unlikely that Loughborough's comments are in any way related to Justin Martyr who was one of the first to try to explain the Christian God to a pagan audience. Justin Martyr's teaching was one of the important first steps towards the concept of the Trinity but he has also been accused of tritheism or even polytheism. In his Apology he does his best to refute the claim that Christians are atheists. He admits that Christians indeed reject false pagan gods and goes on to affirm that they instead believe in the true God who is the Father of all virtues. "Both him and the son who came forth from him, and the prophetic Spirit, we worship and adore." While this sounds like a well thought statement, it has also been understood tritheistic. What is worse is, leaving the common translations of this text aside that in Greek angels are included as an object of worship and listed before the Holy Spirit.lvii In another context he refers to Christ as a second God.[lviii]

Justin may also serve as a good illustration on how difficult it was to explain the Christian God and how easy it was to choose one's words inappropriately. Justin Martyr is usually credited with initiating what is known as the Logos doctrine. Logos represented divine reason, consciousness and even essence, which dwelled in Christ. This teaching is often considered the first step towards Trinitarianism.[lix] Justin Martyr is not the only church father with difficulties in portraying the Christian God in a culture permeated with Greek thought. One could easily create a list of a dozen fathers who had difficulties in finding the proper expressions.

Biblical Study - J.M. Stephenson 

The final sample demonstrates the type of use that Adventist pioneers made of the Bible in connection with the Trinity. During the formative years of Sabbatarian Adventism (1854) J. M. Stephenson expressed the pioneer view on the Trinity with forceful vigor. Dealing with the creedal language he claims that Christ cannot have had "co-etaneous existence" with the father for the simple reasons that he is called the son and is "begotten". If God is the "supreme ruler" it would be impossible to have two Supreme Rulers at the same time." [lx] He clearly states his belief on Christ being created.

Referring to Col. 1:15 he presents Christ as, "the first born of every creature". Continuing his argument, he claims that creature signifies creation and Christ cannot be the first born of every creature unless he is a created being.[lxi]

The Creeds

One notes that while the Adventist pioneers frequently referred to the creeds their definitions and understanding of the Trinity was far from what is stated in the creeds. The creeds represent the final authoritative statements on the Trinity. While Christological struggles continued in particular in the Eastern churches the doctrine of Trinity was settled with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed (A.D. 381).

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made. For us all, and for our salvation he came down from heaven; and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. On the third day he rose from the dead in accordance with the scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. Who, with the Father and Son, is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

We confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come. Amen. [lxii]

The next stage in the Creedal development, the Chalcedonian Creed (A.D. 451) represents the growing confrontation between the theologies of the East and West, but because it relates more to Christology than to the Trinity it can be passed in this context. The Western view with its paradoxes is reflected in the Athanasian Creed (5th C, France).

Whoever will be saved shall, above all else, hold the catholic faith. Which faith, except everyone keeps whole and undefiled, without doubt he will perish eternally.

And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.

For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.

The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated,and the Holy Spirit uncreated.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet there are not three eternals but one eternal. As there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensibles but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.

So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. And yet they are not three almighties but one almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three gods; but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet they are not three lords but one Lord.

For as we are compelled by the Christian truth to acknowledge every person by himself to be both God and Lord, So we cannot by the catholic faith say that there are three Gods or three Lords.

The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created; but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created not begotten but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three persons are coeternal together and coequal, so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped.

He, therefore, that will be saved is compelled thus to think of the Trinity. Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood; Who, although he is God and man, yet he is not two but one Christ.

One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God.

One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.

For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven; He sits at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies and will give an account of their own works. And they that have done good will go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. 

This is the catholic faith which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.


The Nicene-Constantinopolitan and Athanasian creeds stabilised the Christian definition of the Godhead and these expressions of the Trinity have held on through the centuries and been scrutinised by the geniuses of Church history, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Jean Calvin and others. They remain important in spite of the resurgences of Arianism and the onslaught of modern theology. For many Christians the creeds still represent what is a genuinely Christian definition of God and those who do not endorse their doctrines are often classified as being outside the flock or belonging to a cult.

A question worth asking is whether the Seventh-day Adventist Church could or should make more use of the creeds today? After all the church today openly teaches Trinitarianism. Most Adventists would not object to the formulations of the creeds and the church has made a clear turn against its pioneers' rejection of carefully worded and detailed doctrinal statements.

How Adventists may view the Trinity in the New Testament.

Today most Seventh-day Adventists, like their church, are fully committed to Trinitarianism. Many Adventists are not only convinced that the Trinity is a fully provable Biblical doctrine but also that it gives them the right to be called Christian in the true and full sense of the word.

The following summary makes no effort to deduct the exegetical and theological correctness of Trinitarianism. The purpose is simply to demonstrate the complexity of the Biblical witness on the topic by listing examples of New Testament texts.

The following proposals may not be acceptable to everyone, but each point can be defended with some degree of logic. One may also be a confessing Trinitarian, and accept that there are Biblical texts which can be cited as:

1. Evidence for the oneness of God. The Christian church was born in the austerely monotheistic environment of Judaism. Not only Jesus himself, but most of the New Testament writers who first articulated and shaped the Christian faith, were Jews and much of the New Testament was intended for a Jewish audience. Therefore, it is not surprising to find New Testament texts that stress the oneness of God. The classic example is Mk 12.29ff, where Jesus answers a question on the most important commandment by quoting the shema, Dt 6.4, "The most important one" answered Jesus, is this: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."

2. Evidence for the uniqueness of Jesus. From the beginning Christians believed not only in God, but also in Jesus. Jesus was the Messiah, pre-existent, the creator, and even divine, or God's "likeness" (2 Cor 4.4; Col 1.15). Their life centered on Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John gives the clearest evidence: "The Word was with God and the Word was God. Through him all things were made" (Jn 1.1,3). The book of Hebrews is equally emphatic in applying even Old Testament Yahweh texts on Jesus (E.g. Hb. 1.10, Ps.102.25). However, in the final count, such texts are relatively few considering the numerous references New Testament writers make to Christ.

3. Evidence for the personhood of the Holy Spirit. New Testament witness on the Holy Spirit is not nearly as univocal as that on Jesus. However, in particular, the Johannine affirmations on the Spirit are far-reaching and communicate (or at least come very close to communicating) the Spirit in personal terms. For example, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you ." (Jn 14.26). Such clear texts, however, are very few.

4. Evidence for threeness. There are also several passages where the three, God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are mentioned together. One eager Internet theologian has located 58 such texts, [lxiv] but even if that is an overstatement there are several texts. The best known are Mathew's baptismal formula (Mt 28.19) and Paul's doxology. "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." (2 Cor 13.14; cf. Eph 4.4-6).[lxv]

5. Support for Christ being subordinate to the Father. New Testament witness on the Godhead would be fairly simple if it were limited to texts in the categories above. However, the total picture is more complex as there are also several texts which imply, at least on superficial reading, that Christ or the Holy Spirit are subordinate to the Father, or may have had a beginning. For example, "The Father is Greater than I" (Jn. 14.28). Or, "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." (1Cor 11.3)

A few additional notes are in place. The Bible has no clear Trinitarian texts that would in one passage name both the threeness and oneness of God. [lxvi] But instead of Trinitarian texts there are clear pointers towards Trinitarianism in the Bible. The triadic passages are important as they present the three persons of the Godhead, and then these can be combined with other texts including some from the Old Testament background that point to the oneness of God. [lxvii]

Actually, always when speaking about God one should observe that the Old Testament provides the essential foundation without which the full Christian doctrine of God could not exist. What is implicit in the Old Testament becomes explicit in the New. Against the backdrop of the OT, it is easier to understand that Jesus is clearly distinct from the Father, and yet one with him. The OT also helps understand Christ as his role is at times presented through OT quotes.

The final point is, that throughout the New Testament, the uniqueness or the deity of Christ are explicitly affirmed (e.g. Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1). Because of this biblical testimony, Christians pray to Jesus, worship him, and sing praises to him as God. The church, however, cannot be blamed for understanding its respect for Jesus, as well as the presence of the Holy Spirit, within the boundaries of OT monotheism. [lxviii]

One may, in fact claim that because NT writers did not themselves explore the full significance of their intricate, and at times conflicting statements, we should not do so either. The Bible, on this topic implies the answers rather than gives them explicitly. Bible writers do not dwell on ontological issues related to the Godhead. While it is possible to draw Trinitarian conclusions through delicate and meticulous exegesis, one may ask whether it is also appropriate to accept that different people mayhave minor differences in their emphasis and conclusions. Humility and tolerance are in place. Because the subject is so intricate, one should, first of all, never be overly dogmatic or judgmental on those whose views are not in line with one's own. The fact that the Bible is not univocal on its teaching on God and the Godhead must also be a major cause for the long history behind Trinitarianism. And, finally, more emphasis could be placed on the functional side of worship and prayer than on the theoretical definitions of the doctrine.[lxix]

Final Thought

Augustine concluded his great work "On the Trinity" with a prayer which represents one of the more profound historical statements on the topic.

"O Lord, the one God, God the Trinity, whatever I have said in these books that is of Thine, may they acknowledge who are Thine; if anything of my own, may it be pardoned both by Thee and by those who are Thine." [lxx]


i. E.g. Gane, Erwin, The Arian or Anti-Trinitarian Views Presented in Seventh-day Adventist Literature and the Ellen G. White Answer, 1963. htp://, (April 27, 2008). Moon Jerry, Early Adventists Struggle with the Truth about Trinity htp:// (April 26, 2008). 

ii. E.g. Moon Jerry, Andrews University Seminary Studies, Vol. 41, No. 1, 113-129. Copyright 2003 Andrews University Press.

iii. Jerry Moon observes that EGW's statements from the 1850's and early 1860's are ambiguous. According to Moon's research her earliest clearly Trinitarian statements are from 1869. Moon, Jerry, The Role of Ellen G. White, The Adventist Trinity Debate, Andrews University Seminary Studies, No. 2 (Autumn 2003), 275-292; htp:// (April 29, 2008).

iv. Smith, Timothy L, Social Reform: Some Reflections on Causation and Consequence; Gaustad, Edwin S, ed. Rise of Adventism, New York, Evanston, San Francisco, London, 1974, p. 18. 

v. Hudson, Winthrop S, A Time of Religious Ferment; Gaustad, Edwin S, ed. Rise of Adventism, New York, Evanston, San Francisco, London, 1974, p. 6f.

vi. Millard, David, History of the Christians or the Christian Connexion, in Vinebrenner, John, ed. History of All the Religious Denominations in the United States, Harrisburg, PA, 1848, pp. 164-170. 
htp:// (April 15, 2008).

vii. Restorationism, Wikipedia: htp:// (Oct 10, 2008).

viii. See e.g. Knight, George R, A Search for Identity; Hagerstown, MD., 2000, pp 30-37.

ix. Miller William, Rules of Interpretation; Midnight Cry, Nov 17, 1842; Views of the Prophecies and Prophetic Chronology; (Joshua V. Himes) Boston, 1842, pp 20-24. Miller's rules have been republished several times, frequently in later edited versions. Hale Apollos, Second Advent Manual, Boston 1843, 103-106; Bliss, Sylvester, Memoirs of William Miller, Boston, 1853, pp. 70-72; Damsteegt, P. Gerard, Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission, (Diss.) Grand Rapids, Mi., 1977, 299f; Harrison, John F.C., The Second Coming, London and Henley, New Brunswick, 1979, 200f; Judd, William Miller, Disappointed Prophet, in Numbers, Ronald L and Butler, Jonathan L. eds. The Disappointed, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1987, 20f; Arasola Kai, The End of Historicism, (Diss.) Sigtuna Sweden, 1990, pp. 50-53.
x. See e.g. Arasola Kai, The End of Historicism, (Diss.) Sigtuna Sweden, 1990, pp. 53-59.

xi. Millard, David, History of the Christians or the Christian Connexion, in Vinebrenner, John, ed. History of All the Religious Denominations in the United States, Harrisburg, PA, 1848, pp. 164-170. 
htp:// (April 15, 2008). Interestingly this thought pattern can still be seen in the work of some scholars. E.g. Adolf Harnacks massive History of Dogma implies that original Christianity had no doctrines and that doctrinal definitions watered down the genuine original Christian faith. See e.g. Harnack, Adolf, History of Dogma.

xii. Froom, LeRoy Edwin, Movement of Destiny, Washington DC, 19. p. . Froom's comments reflect an apologetic agenda as he tries to show that only one in seven Millerite preachers were from an Anti-Trinitarian background. However, in the process he ignores the "Christian" background of some of the listed pastors. Considering the 19th C views one should also keep in mind that all in Connexionist churches were not necessarily Anti-Trinitarian and some in traditional churches may have had Arian or semi-Arian views (e.g. it would be worth checking Stetson's, Storrs', Wenham's views). Himes standing in Connextionism is reflected in his being called to write a description of Christian Connexion or Christian Churches into Edwards, B.B. ed., Fessenden & Co's Ecyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Brattleborough, VT, 1838. htp://, April 16, 

xiii. Knight, George R, A Search for Identity; Hagerstown, MD., 2000, pp 31.

xiv. McGaughhey, Ken, Seventh-day Adventist Roots VII, LandMarks Magazine, December 1998. 
htp:// (Aril 20, 2008). 

xv. E.g. Kastrati Julian, Against Historical Adventists: The Whites and the Divinity of Christ. C2004, 2007. htp:// (April 15, 2008).

xvi. Millard, David, History of the Christians or the Christian Connexion, in Vinebrenner, John, ed. History of All the Religious Denominations in the United States, Harrisburg, PA, 1848, pp. 164-170. 
htp:// (April 15, 2008).

xvii. Bourdeau, Daniel T. Sanctification, or Living Holiness, p. 13. Cf. "In every age there is a new development of truth, a message of God to the people of that generation. The old truths are all essential; new truth is not independent of the old, but an unfolding of it. It is only as the old truths are understood that we can comprehend the new." White, Ellen G., Christ's Object Lessons, p. 127.

xviii. White, James, Untitled introductory note Present Truth 1/1 July 1849. Guy, Fritz, Mapping the Past: Exploring the Development of Adventist Theology, [Being Adventist in 21st Century Australia], 
htp://, (April 29, 2008).

xix. Bull, Malcolm, Lockhart, Keith, Seeking a Sanctuary, Indiana 1989, p. 42; (Google Book Search, Oct 9, 2008).

xx. "Seventh-day Adventist Eschatology", htp:// day_Adventist_eschatology Wikipedia 

xxi. Lohse, Bernhard, A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Philadelphia 1985, pp. 66-90.

xxii. Bromiley, Geoffrey W., Historical Theology, An Introduction. Edinburgh, 1978. P. 133.

xxiii. Doings of the Battle Creek Conference, Oct. 5 & 6, 1861, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 18 (8 Oct. 1861): 148.

xxiv. White, James S. Biography p. 454.

xxv. Cf. references to creeds in Guy, Fritz, Uncovering the Origins of the Statement of Twenty-seven Fundamental Beliefs, Part I, htp:// (April 10, 2008)

xxvi. Scragg, Walter R. L., Doctrinal Statements and the Life and Witness of the Church, unpublished paper presented at workers' meetings in Vaster, Sweden and Manchester, England, between 24 Aug. and 4 Sept. 1981.

xxvii. Athanasios, Christian History & Biography (Christianity Today); 
htp:// (April 26, 2008).

xxviii. Arius, Wikipedia, htp:// (April 26, 2008).

xxix. Guy, Fritz, Uncovering the Origins of the Statement of the Twenty-seven Fundamental Beliefs, Part 1, htp://, (April 29. 2008).

xxx. Unitarianism refers to belief in the oneness of God, strict monotheism and opposition to the doctrine of the Trinity, and represented other somewhat liberal theological views. See e.g. Unitarianism, Wikipedia, htp:// (Oct 14, 2008).

xxxi. Unitarians shared the Connexionist and Millerite distaste for creeds and Church organizations. Unitarianism The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Questia, Columbia University, 2004. 
htp:// (April 27, 2008).

xxxii. Fischer, Chris, A Brief History of Unitarian Christianity. American Unitarian Conference. 
htp:// (April 27, 2008).

xxxiii. Gaston, John W. III, A Theological History of Unitarianism. American Unitarian Conference, 2000. 
htp://, (April 28, 2008).

xxxiv. Stark, Rodney, The Rise of Christianity, San Franciscio, 1997, pp. 49ff.

xxxv. Hippolytos, Refutation, 9.11; Walker, Williston A History of the Christian Church, Edinburgh 1959, p 70.

xxxvi. Stark, Rodney, Rise of Christianity, San Franciscio, 1997, pp. 59ff.

xxxvii. Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, ch 47. ACW 16, 78.

xxxviii. Lohse, Bernhard, A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Philadelphia 1985, p.44.

xxxix. Wikipedia, Tertullian, htp://, (April 23.2008). Sometimes also Theophilus of Antioch is claimed as the first to use the term. However, his term is "triad" rather than "Trinity" when he compares the three first days of creation with God -- first day for God, second for his Word and the third for his Wisdom.

xl. Harnack, Adolf, History of Dogma II, Eugene OR, 1997. Pp 231, 257.

xli. Tertullian, 

xlii. Lohse, Bernhard, A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Philadelphia 1985.

xliii. Harnack, Adolf, History of Dogma II, Eugene OR, 1997. Pp 358.

xliv. Harnack, Adolf, History of Dogma III, Eugene OR, 1997. Pp 51-73.

xlv. Harnack, Adolf, History of Dogma IV, Eugene OR, 1997. Pp 2-13.

xlvi. Harnack, Adolf, History of Dogma IV, Eugene OR, 1997. Pp 18,19.

xlvii. Harnack, Adolf, History of Dogma IV, Eugene OR, 1997. Pp 120, 126.

xlviii. Bromiley, Geoffrey W., Historical Theology, An Introduction. Edinburgh 1978, Pp. 81-95.

xlix. See e.g. James White's defence of Adventism as a turn to the true Bible message. Bible Adventism, Introduction, htp://

l. Hull, D.W., The Bible Doctrine of Divinity, Review and Herald (November 10, 1859), Gane, Erwin, The Arian or Anti-Trinitarian Views Presented in Seventh-day Adventist Literature and the Ellen G. White Answer. Chapter III. htp://, (April 27, 2008).

li. E.g. Docetism, Wikipedia. htp:// (Oct 12, 2008)

lii. Kangas, Ron, Modalism, Tritheism, or the Pure Revelation of the Triune God According to the Bible. Contending for the Faith, htp://, (Oct 12, 2008)

liii. Frisbie, J.B., The Seventh day-Sabbath Not Abolished. Review and Herald (March 7, 1854). In Gane, Erwin, The Arian or Anti-Trinitarian Views Presented in Seventh-day Adventist Literature and the Ellen G. White Answer. Chapter III. htp://, (April 27, 2008).

liv. Moon, Jerry, Early Adventists Struggle with the Truth about Trinity. 
htp:// (April 26, 2008). The same view was also presented by Hull, D.W., The Bible Doctrine of Divinity, Review and Herald (November 17, 1859), Gane, Erwin, The Arian or Anti-Trinitarian Views Presented in Seventh-day Adventist Literature and the Ellen G. White Answer. Chapter III. htp://, (April 27, 2008).

lv. E.g. Expulsion of Sabellanians. Lohse, Bernhard, A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Philadelphia 1985, pp. 58f.

lvi. Loughborough, J.H. Questions for Bro. Loughborough. Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 18 (Nov 5, 1861), p. 184. Moon, Jerry, Early Adventists Struggle with the Truth about Trinity. 
htp:// (April 26, 2008).

lvii. ANF I, p. 164. E.g. Lohse translates his text in this way. Lohse, Bernhard, A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Philadelphia 1985, p. 43.

lviii. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ch 56, ANF I, 223ff. Cf. Harnack Adolf, History of Dogma II, Eugene OR, 1997. Pp 111f.

lix. Harnack, Adolf, History of Dogma II, Eugene OR, 1997. Pp 208-213.

lx. Stephenson, J.M., The Atonement; Review and Herald, Nov 14, 1854. In Gane, Erwin, The Arian or Anti-Trinitarian Views Presented in Seventh-day Adventist Literature and the Ellen G. White Answer. Chapter III. htp://, (April 27, 2008).

lxi. Stephenson, J.M., The Atonement; Review and Herald, Nov 14, 1854. In Gane, Erwin, The Arian or Anti-Trinitarian Views Presented in Seventh-day Adventist Literature and the Ellen G. White Answer. Chapter III. htp://, (April 27, 2008).

lxii. World Council of Churches website, htp:// (April 26, 2008).

lxiii. Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod website, htp:// (April 26, 2008).

lxiv. htp:// (April 23.2008).

lxv. Lohse, Bernhard, A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Philadelphia 1985, p. 38-41.

lxvi. As a historical curiosity one may note that there was a Trinitarian text in some of the earlier editions of KJV, based on Erasmus' 1522 rendering of the so called comma Johanneum, John 5.7,8. "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one."

lxvi. While this form of the text is known from as early as the 4th century, there is no early manuscript support for the section in italics.

lxvii. Lohse, Bernhard, A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Philadelphia 1985, p. 38. 

lxviii. Mathison, Keith, Book Review May 26, 2008, The Holy Trinity by Robert Letham;
htp:// (Oct 12, 2008).

lxix. This might also suit better the postmodern mindset that usually shuns detailed and dogmatic definitions.

lxx. Augustine On the Trinity Bk XV, 28.51. NPNF 3, 228. Lohse Bernhard, A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Philadelphia 1985, pp. 70. About the Author: Kai Arasola, PhD, is the Dean of the Faculty of Religious Studies at Mission College. His area of expertise is historical theology.

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The Arian or Anti-Trinitarian Views Presented in Seventh-day Adventist Literature

By Erwin R. Gane


Chapter 3



Writing in the Review and Herald in 1854, J. M. Stephenson exposed himself as a militant Arian. In an article entitled "the atonement" Stephenson forcefully presented his anti-Trinitarian arguments:

The idea of the Father and Son supposes priority of the existence of the one, and the subsequent existence of the other. To say that the Son is as old as the Father, is a palpable contradiction of terms. It is a natural impossibility for the Father to be as young as the Son, or the Son to be as old as the Father.1

He proceeded to point out that the terms "Father" and "Son" would not have been used by the Bible writers if they had wished "to convey the idea of the co-etaneous existence, and eternity of the Father and Son."2 Stephenson quoted a Trinitarian named Fuller who agreed that the Father must have existed prior to the Son. The Son is the "first born" said Stephenson, in the sense that He had an origin at a point prior to all other forms of life. Christ was begotten. Therefore "he must have had a beginning." God, he wrote, is the "only supreme ruler." It would be impossible to have two Supreme Rulers at the same time. Only the Father is "supremely, or absolutely, good."3 Only the Father is, in the absolute sense, immortal. Only the Father is self-existent. The Son is therefore dependent on the Father for the Father gave "the Son to have life in himself."4

Stephenson went so far as to declare that Christ was a created being:

Col. 1:15. "the first born of every creature." Creature signifies creation; hence to be the first born of every creature, (creation) he must be a create being; and as such, his life and immortality must depend upon the Father's will just as much as angels, or redeemed man.5

1, 2, 3. -- J. M. Stephenson, "The Atonement," Review and Herald, VI (November 14, 1854), 128.

... ...


Writing in 1859, D. W. Hull presented in the Review and Herald a series of two articles discussing the "bible doctrine of divinity." He sees the Trinitarian position as subversive of the doctrine of the atonement.8 It is clear that he is, to some extent, reacting to certain extreme Trinitarian positions, but in the process he attempts to shatter the whole structure of that doctrine. Hull writes:

The doctrine which we propose to examine, was established by the Council of Nice [sic], A.D. 325, and ever since that period, persons not believing this particular tenet, have been denounced by popes and priests, as dangerous heretics. It was for disbelief in this doctrine, that the Arians were anathematized in A.D. 513.

As we can trace this doctrine not farther back than the origin of the "man of sin" and as we find this dogma at that time established rather by force, than otherwise, we claim the right to investigate the matter, and ascertain the bearing of Scripture on this subject.9

Hull is at pains to point out that "we" believe in the divinity of Christ but adds that "we don't believe, as the m. e. church discipline teaches, that Christ is the very and eternal God; at the same time, very man; that the human part was the Son, and the divine part was the Father."10

He then proceeds to repudiate what he calls "The orthodox view of God" that he is "without body, parts, passions, centre, circumference, or locality."" It is not difficult to understand his opposition to this extreme view. He adds, "it certainly appears that such a God as this, must be entirely devoid of an existence."11

Hull then begins to investigate all the important passages claimed by Trinitarians in support of their view. In answer to the Trinitarians' use of Isaiah 9:6 he declares that Christ is here called mighty, but not almighty. The word he believes is used "in a limited sense." Christ is the everlasting Father only in the sense that He is to live everlastingly, certainly not in the Trinitarian sense.

Hull emphasizes the argument which Joseph Bates used in 1827. If the divine part of Jesus was the Father, if it was the Father who was manifested in the flesh, then God and Christ are one person. Consistently throughout the article, Hull confuses the correct Trinitarian position with Monarchianism. He argues that Trinitarians say there is one God and that Christ is God in the same sense as the Father. Therefore Christ is the Father. They are one and the same person. But he sees this to be logically impossible and Scripturally unsound. Father and Son are one just as are a man and his wife. They are united in interest and purpose. Christ, he says, is not the only and eternal God. He is not as great as the Father, nor did He pretend to be so. His power was delegated. The objection is illustrated as follows:

What would the reader think of a man who moved from the State of Ohio to Iowa with his family and after enjoying their company for a season talk of going back to Ohio where he could see his family? If you cannot allow inconsistencies I men, how can you accuse the Saviour of leaving the world to go to the Father, and at the same time assert that the Saviour was Jehovah himself?12

Hull gives further reasons for rejecting what he calls the Trinitarian position. If Father and Son are one person then the world was three days without a God, for the Bible says that He was "put to death in the flesh." Christ cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Trinitarians say that the Godhead had left him. Then Christ must have been alive after the Godhead had departed from Him, and the sacrifice was only a human sacrifice.13 But how could a human sacrifice atone for our sins? Thus he objects to the view that Christ's soul did not die. It was necessary for every part of Christ to die that human sin might be adequately atoned for. He quotes 2 Peter 3:18 and adds, "There is no chance of escape here. Christ's soul and every part that dwelt in his flesh was put to death and buried in sheol, or hades."14 The Trinitarian teaching that Christ's body descended to the grave but his soul or divinity, or whatever it might be termed, ascended to paradise, is rejected as unscriptural and destructive of the possibility of the atonement.

The three salient reasons which Hull gives for rejecting Trinitarianism are that the doctrine teaches that God lacks bodily parts and emotions, that it identifies Father and Son as one and the same person, and that, because it teaches that the divine in Christ did not die, it readers the sacrifice a human sacrifice, and therefore, an inadequate atonement for the sins of man. It is quite evident that to some extent Hull was opposing an extreme form of Trinitarianism, but this is not a sufficient explanation of his anti-Trinitarianism. He relegates the decisions of Nicea to the category of false doctrine. But he misinterprets the position of the Nicene fathers. They were at pains to avoid the accusation of Monarchianism. Hull accuses them of teaching this. Like Joseph Bates, on this particular point, he is opposing not the Trinitarian view itself but his own misconception of what that view is.

Chapter 4


Perhaps the most influential of the early Seventh-day Adventist Arians was Uriah Smith. For forty-seven years, Smith was editor of The Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald. During this time he often allowed his views to appear in print, sometimes in the form of articles written by other people, sometimes in the form of articles and statements in books written by himself. It is the intention of the present writer, first Smith's understanding of the nature of the Holy Spirit, and second, his position as to the Deity and pre-existence of Christ.


As early as 1859, Uriah Smith stressed the importance of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the Church:

This Spirit is the life-principle of the church of God; and the degree in which that Spirit is possessed by lives "by faith of the Son of God."1

Smith recognizes the Spirit as the source of spiritual power and the surety of the presence of God in the church, and he recoils in horror from the suggestion that there is no Holy Spirit:

... ...

In 1898, his book Looking Unto Jesus appeared with its strongly Arian description of Christ. The very next year after Smith's use of the word "trinity" in a Review and Herald article, he published, in answer to a questioner, his opinion that "there are various expressions concerning the Holy Spirit which would indicate that it could not be properly considered as a person such as its being shed abroad in the heart, and poured out upon all flesh. "13

It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that Uriah Smith consistently held that the Holy Spirit is an influence, not a person nor a member of the Deity in a Trinitarian sense. No evidence has been discovered that he held any other belief on the subject, or that he changed his position prior to his death in 1903.


Uriah Smith's stand on the subject of the relation between Christ and the Father has been more widely publicized because of its inclusion in his volumes Daniel and the Revelation, and Looking Unto Jesus. The first issue of his commentary on Revelation came off the press in 1865 under the title, Thoughts Critical and Practical on the book of Revelation. Speaking of Christ in his comment on Revelation 3:14-22, Smith wrote:

Moreover he is "the beginning of the creation of God." Not the beginner, but the beginning, of the creation, the first created being, dating his existence far back before any other created being or thing, next to the self-existent and eternal God. On this expression Barnes makes the following significant admission: "if it were demonstrated from other sources that Christ was, in fact, a created being, and the first that God had made, it cannot be denied that this language would appropriately express that fact."14

In the 1882 edition of Thoughts on the book of Daniel and the Revelation, this statement was modified so as to exclude the suggestion that Christ was created in the ordinary sense of the term.15 The 1899 edition of the same work altered the statement again so that it now indicated it to be the opinion of the author that Christ was no created in the ordinary sense, but that there was a time when He did not exist:

"Others, however, and more properly we think, take the word to mean "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 the term."16

... ...

Daniel and the Revelation in the older editions contained other utterances which were clearly anti-Trinitarian in intent. For instance, the 1882 edition contains a comment on Revelation 1:4 which denies eternity of existence to Christ. The phrase, "from him which is and which was, and which is to come," is said to be an "expression which signifies complete eternity, past and future, and can be applicable to God the Father only."20 Smith points out that this language is never applied to Christ. On the use of the term "alpha and omega" in Revelation 1:11 he excludes any application of the phrase to Christ by quoting textual evidence for the omission of the words.21 Of course, Revelation 22:13 provides an undeniable application of this phrase to Christ, because of verse 16, but Smith explained the usage as follows:

Christ here applies to himself the appellation of Alpha and Omega. As applied to him, the expression must be taken in a more limited sense than when applied to the Father as in chap. 1:8. Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, of the great plan of salvation.22

In 1898, the same year that Ellen G. White's book The Desire of Ages was published, the Review and Herald Publishing company produced Uriah Smith's work, Looking Unto Jesus. It is significant that the leading Denominational publishing house should produce in the same year two works, one so markedly anti-Arian and the other so distinctly Arian. Smith renewed and further explained his Arian teaching in this new work. He wrote:

"God alone is without beginning. At the earliest epoch when a beginning could be,--a period so remote that to finite minds it is essentially eternity,--appeared the Word This uncreated Word was the Being, who, in the fullness of time was made flesh, and dwelt among us. His beginning was not like that of any other being in the universe. ... Thus it appears that by some divine impulse or process, not creation, known only to Omniscience, and possibly only to Omnipotence, the Son of God appeared."23

Obviously, Smith's 1865 teaching, that Christ was a created being, was a passing phase. Here again we see that although he recognizes a remote time at which Christ came into being, yet the process by which this took place is regarded as distinct from creation. After having been brought into existence, the Son was given equality with the Father. So Uriah Smith understands Paul's utterance as recorded in Philippians 2:6. He regards Deity as having in some mysterious way evolved. "with the Son," he writes, "the evolution of deity, as deity, ceased."24

Uriah Smith in his book Looking Unto Jesus declared himself as adhering to the position that every part of Christ died on Calvary. In this he was in complete agreement with D. W. Hull. He believed that when Christ left heaven He left His immortality behind also. When He died it was "as a whole, as a divine being, as the Son of God." If this had not been so then the Saviour would have been merely a human one, and the sacrifice merely a human sacrifice, "but the prophet says that his soul was made an offering for sin ????? isa. 53:10."25

Uriah Smith's position on the nature of God is, therefore, clearly Arian. The Holy Spirit is a mere influence. The Son was brought into existence by the Father, and although elevated to a position of equality with the Father, His authority is, at best, a delegated authority. The suggestion that he divine part of Christ did not die on Calvary he rejected as destructive of the possibility of the atonement.


1Uriah Smith, The Spirit of God, Review and Herald, XIII (February 17, 1859); 100. 2Ibid. 3Uriah Smith, In the Question Chair, Review and Herald, LXVII (October 28, 1890), 664. 4Ibid. 5Acts 2:3,4. 6Rev. 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6. 7Uriah Smith, The Spirit of Prophecy and Our Relation To It, The General Conference Bulletin, IV (March 18, 1891), 146. 8Ibid. 9Uriah Smith, In the Question Chair, Review and Herald, LXVIII (November 10, 1891), 697. 10Uriah Smith, ibid., LXIX (September 6, 1892), 568. 11Uriah Smith, ibid., LXXIII (October 27, 1896), 685. 12Ibid. 13Ibid., LXXIV (March 23, 1897), 188. 14Uriah Smith, Thoughts Critical and Practical on the Book of Revelation (Battle Creek, Mich.: Steam Press of the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1865), p. 59. 15Uriah Smith, Thoughts on the Book of Daniel and the Revelation (Battle Creek, Mich.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1882), p.487. 16Ibid., 1899, p. 371. 17Uriah Smith, Daniel and the Revelation (Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Publishing Association, 1941), p. 400.

Chapter 5



James White was editor of the Review and Herald in 1861. In November of that year, he published J. N. Loughborough's answer to the question, "what serious objection is there to the doctrine of the trinity?" Loughborough replied:

There are many objections which we might urge, but on account of our limited space we shall reduce them to the following: 1. It is contrary to common sense. 2. It is contrary to Scripture. 3. It's origin is Pagan and fabulous.1

In enlarging on the first point, Loughborough objected to the idea that three are one, and one, three. He opposes the use of the terms "the Triune God," and "the three-in-one God."2 "if Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are each God, it would be three Gods." Under the second point he urges that in Scripture Father and Son are spoken of as two distinct persons. As indicated by John chapter 17, the oneness between them is the same as that between Christian believers. To believe the doctrine of the Trinity, to Loughborough, would involve acceptance of the idea that "God sent himself onto the world, died to reconcile the world to himself, raised himself from the dead, ascended to himself in heaven."3 Here again we are confronted with anti-Trinitarianism based on opposition to what Trinitarians did not teach, that the Father was the Son and vice versa.

That Loughborough was opposing Trinitarianism, not merely as it appeared in his day, but in its earliest manifestation in the Christian Church, is evidenced by his amplification of his third point. The doctrine of the Trinity came into the church, so he argues, about the same time as image worship and Sunday observance. It is simply a renovation of the pagan Persian religion. It was introduced into the Christian Church about 325 A. D. and was an established doctrine by 681 A. D. Spain adoptepd it in 589, Africa in 534 and England in 596.4

Chapter 6


Writing for the Review and Herald in the period from 1867 to 1878, D. M. Canright confined himself, for the most part, to a very verbal and somewhat polemic reiteration of what his Seventh-day Adventist predecessors had written.


In 1867 he produced an article entitled, "Jesus Christ the Son of God." He wrote:

Christ came into existence first of all things. My grounds for this proposition are John i:1,2; Col. i, 17; Prov. viii, 22, 30. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. the same was in the beginning with God." Here, the existence of the Word, or Christ, is placed as far back as language can place it, even in the beginning with the great God.1

Canright understood that Christ was begotten, not created in the same sense as angels and men. We are commanded to worship the Son, and no created being is ever worthy of worship. The Son is not to be regarded as great as the Father for first all things are subdued under the Son and then the Son becomes subject to the Father. Here Canright quotes John 14:28 and 1 Cor. 15:28. Therefore, he concludes, "The Son is subordinate to the Father."2 Christ cannot be described, as the Father can, as the "very and eternal God." As did his predecessors, Canright assumes that Trinitarians teach that the Father and the Son are one person, and then proceeds to demonstrate the incorrectness of this position. When Christ died, every part of him died otherwise the sacrifice was only a human one.


In 1878, Canright produced a series of four articles headed "the personality of God," greatly amplifying his views and providing strong opposition to the Trinitarian position. He wrote, "Jesus says that his father is the only true God. but trinitarians contradict this by saying that the Son and the Holy Ghost are just as much the true God as the Father is."3 Canright opposed the creedal conception of God as "without body, part, or passion." "I do not believe," he said, "that any person, whatever his creed may be, ever prays to God without conceiving of him as having a body, form, and shape, and being located upon a throne in heaven."4 He provides considerable Scriptural quotation as evidence for his belief. He denies the usual distinction between matter and spirit, and regards God as possessing form and parts, even though He is a Spirit.5 "It is our opinion," he writes, "founded both in revelation and science, that celestial beings are as material as men, only that they are more highly organized, more refined, "matter on a higher plane."6

In the same year, 1878, The Signs of the Times published an article by Canright entitled "the Holy Spirit not a person, but an influence proceeding from God." He begins:

All trinitarian creeds make the Holy Ghost a person, equal in substance, power, eternity, and glory with the Father and Son. Thus they claim three persons in the trinity, each one equal with both others. If this is so, then the Holy Spirit is just as truly an individual intelligent person as is the Father or the Son. But this we cannot believe. The Holy Spirit is not a person. In all our prayers we naturally conceive of God as a person, and of the Son as a person, but whoever conceived of the Holy Ghost as being a person, standing there beside the Father and equal with Him?7

On the contrary Canright takes the decided stand that the Holy Spirit is "a divine influence proceeding from the Father and also from the Son, as their power, energy, etc."8 The Spirit is personified in the Bible only because it is the Spirit of a person. In a similar way is man's spirit personified.

ENDNOTES: 1D. M. Canright, "Jesus Christ the Son of God," Review and Herald, III (June 18, 1867), 1. 2Ibid. 3D. M. Canright, "The Personality of God," Review and Herald, III (August 29, 1878), 73. 4Ibid., Sept. 5, 1878, 81. 5Ibid., Sept. 19, 1878, 97. 6Ibid. 7D. M. Canright, "The Holy Spirit not a Person, but an Influence Proceeding from God," The Signs of the Times, IV (July 25, 1878), 218. 8Ibid.

Chapter 7



It was during James White's term as editor of The Signs of the Times that A. J. Dennis in 1879 published his article entitled "one god." He wrote:

What a contradiction of terms is found in the language of a trinitarian creed: "In unity of this Godhead are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." There are many things that are mysterious written in the word of God, but we may safely presume the Lord never calls upon us to believe impossibilities. But creeds often do.1

Dennis regarded belief in two self-existent beings each equal in power, as postulating the existence of two Gods. But, he says, the Bible teaches the existence of only one. He saw no difficulty in ascribing eternity to both Father and Son if "eternity" refers to "duration without end." In this sense Enoch and Elijah and all the redeemed saints have eternity of existence.2


J. M. Hopkins writing for the Review and Herald in 1883 attached great importance to the work of the Holy Spirit, but proceeded to define its existence in the following term, "it is that almighty, holy influence operating in the universe of god, by means of which worlds have been formed, physical laws established and maintained;" "3

God, he believed, has communicated to his people by means of the Spirit, the saints are to be raised by the same power, and the living changed into an incorruptible form ready for translation, by the same Spirit. But the Spirit remains an "influence" as different from a person, an equal member in the Godhead.


Two men wrote for the Review and Herald In 1883, leaving the question as to the nature of the Holy Spirit an open one. Neither was prepared to dogmatize and both placed emphasis on the importance of the work of the Holy Spirit. Swift wrote, "Just what the spirit is, is a mooted question among theologians, and we may not hope to give it a positive answer, but we may learn something of its nature, and the part it acts in human salvation."4 He proceeds to speak of the work of the Spirit and consistently uses the personal pronoun "he" in reference to the Spirit. There is no real indication in the article as to whether Swift believed the Holy Spirit an influence or a person, but the tenor of the article is certainly in the direction of the latter conception.

G. C. Tenny in his article entitled "The Comforter," asserts that whatever the existence of the Holy Spirit is material or immaterial, whether it is "a personal being, or a representative influence, it exists, clothed with an all-seeing and omnipresent nature, and claims our most sacred respect."5 Here again the writer leaves the question open as to the personality of the Holy Spirit. Later in the century, in 1896, Tenny wrote an answer to a question sent in by a correspondent. The question was as follows:

Please explain 1 John 5:8. (1) Is the word "spirit" synonymous with the Holy Ghost of verse 7? (2) What is the Holy Ghost? How do we receive it, through God, or through angels? (3) Is the Comforter of John 16:7,8 the Holy Ghost? If so, how can it be alluded to as "him" and "he"? -- C.W.W.6

Tenny disposed of the first question by saying that the last part of verse 7 and the first part of verse 8 is an interpolation which ought not to be in the Scriptures. He adds:

It is not in the Revised Version, and it is well understood by Biblical scholars that these words were inserted by some one who desired to render more prominent an erroneous idea of the dogma of the Trinity.7

Of course modern scholarship would not disagree with Tenny's rejection of the 1 John 5:7 and 8 interpolation. But it is clear from his statement that he is not Trinitarian. The idea, which the passage would prove, were it genuine, is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one. This idea Tenny regards as "erroneous."

In spite of this, Tenny does not rule out the possibility that the Holy Spirit is a person. In answer to the second question he wrote, "we cannot tell. we cannot describe the Holy Spirit." He regards the Scriptural evidence of such a nature that he is "led to believe he is something more than an emanation from the mind of god." Tenny continues:

He is included in the apostolic benedictions, and is spoken of by our Lord as acting in an independent and personal capacity as teacher, guide, and comforter. He is an object of veneration, and is a heavenly intelligence, everywhere present, and always present. But as limited beings, we cannot understand the problems which the contemplation of the Deity presents to our minds.8

Here we are confronted with a writer who obviously has not accepted the doctrine of the Trinity, but whose doubts in regard to the personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit seem to be gradually resolving in the direction of the Trinitarian belief. He is not yet thoroughly sure, but is at least prepared to concede that "He," the Spirit of God , "is something more than an emanation from the mind of God."


The Pacific Press published J. H. Waggoner's book, The Atonement, in 1884. As has been shown Waggoner was by no means the first Seventh-day Adventist writer who regarded the Trinitarian view of Christ as subversive of the atonement, but his work underlined and for a time perpetuated this position. He wrote, "surely, we say right, that the doctrine of a trinity degrades the atonement, by bringing this sacrifice, the blood of our purchase, down to the standard of socinianism."9

The point which Waggoner emphasizes so often is that in Christ there were not two distinct natures during the incarnation, one, the human, which died, and the other, the Divine which, when the human died, ascended again to the Father. This view would render the sacrifice a human one, and therefore an inadequate one for human redemption.

Waggoner regards it as impossible for the self-existent God to die. He says, "here is a plain declaration that "the ever-living, self-existent god died for sinners, which we cannot believe."10 The Father was the self-existent God, Christ was not. Therefore, Christ could die for sinners. Both His human and divine attributes died on the Cross. This position led Waggoner to conclude that Christ was subordinate possessing a derived existence. Christ was pre-existent but not self-existent and therefore God in a subordinate sense. Waggoner wrote:

The first of the above quotations say the Word was God, and also the Word was with God. Now it needs no proof -- indeed it is self-evident that the Word as God, was not the God whom he was with. And as there is but "one God," the term must be used in reference to the Word in a subordinate sense, which is explained by Paul's calling the same pre-existent person the Son of God.11

It was this pre-existent, subordinate Son of God who died on Calvary and provided the possibility of atonement. It is clear, therefore, that Waggoner's repudiation of Trinitarianism was in view of its apparent contradiction of his understanding of the atonement.


1. A. J. Dennis, "One God," The Signs of the Times, V (May 22, 1879), 162.

2. Ibid.

3. J. M. Hopkins, "Grieve Not The Spirit," Review and Herald, LX (July 3, 1883), 417.

4. J. E. Swift, "Our Companion," Review and Herald, LX (July 3, 1883), 421.

5. G. C. Tenny, "The Comforter," Review and Herald, LX (October 30, 1883), 673.

6. G. C. Tenny, "To Correspondents," Review and Herald, LXXIII (June 9, 1896), 362.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. J. H. Waggoner, The Atonement (Oakland, Cal.: Pacific Press, 1884), p. 174.

10. Ibid., p.176.

11. Ibid., p. 153.