The Unitarian (anti-Trinitarian) view of God

The view that Jesus had a beginning, that His existence was derived from God the Father at some point in remote history, has long been a sticking point within Christianity – and the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) is no exception.  Arian, Unitarian or otherwise anti-Trinitarian ideas have a long history within the SDA Church, being held by essentially all of the founders of the SDA Church.  Eventually, of course, the SDA Church officially endorsed the Trinitarian doctrine of the Godhead due to the influence of Ellen White in this direction – because of the church’s view that she spoke with a prophetic voice on this topic. Even so, every now and then throughout the history of the SDA Church, anti-Trinitarian ideas have continued to resurface.  Currently, this is happening again in the form of very polished video presentations published by Michael McCaffrey and Nader Mansour on their website “” – which are evidently quite popular and are rapidly making the rounds within the SDA community.

The Anti-Trinitarian Views of Michael McCaffrey: 

In short, McCaffrey, in his two-part series, ties the origins of the SDA concept of a Trinity in with Dr. John Kellogg’s theories on pantheism and spiritualism during the time of Ellen White (Link).  McCaffrey denies that Ellen White was herself a Trinitarian and attempts to use her writings to support his own position against the Trinity – arguing that Jesus did, in fact, have a beginning, that He was originated or “begotten” by the Father at some specific point in historical time prior to the time when Jesus took on humanity and prior to the creation of the angels. In other words, before this particular point in time, Jesus had no prior existence and is therefore not truly eternal like the Father.  He assigns the origin of the Trinitarian idea to the Catholics as their central pillar of faith and then claims that the Catholic ideas concerning the Trinity are also held by Adventists.  He says that the Catholic “God of the antiChrist” has been taken on by Adventists as the “God of the Three Angels Messages”, and that this is “blasphemy”.

E. J. Waggoner:

Michael cites Ellen White as claiming that Jesus was the Son of God while in heaven, before coming to Earth in human form – which is true (Letter 253).  He then goes on to cite E. J. Waggoner (Link – at 44:44) where Waggoner (not Ellen White) wrote:
“The Scriptures declare that Christ is ‘the only begotten son of God.’ He was begotten, not created… There was a time when Christ proceeded forth from God, from the bosom of the Father, but that time was so far back in the days of eternity that to finite comprehension it is practically without beginning.”

Ty Gibson:

He then quotes Ty Gibson (well-known SDA evangelist from Light Bearers) where Ty addresses Waggoner’s claim that there is some kind of difference between “begotten” and “created” – which Ty calls “philosophical gobbledegook”. Ty argues that there is no fundamental difference as long as Jesus had a beginning while the Father, who gave rise to Jesus, did not. That concept alone, if true, would give the Father natural superiority over Jesus – resulting in a dramatically different view of the cross, of the nature of the Law, and of the Gospel message itself.
Of course, Michael argues against Ty claiming that Ty is opposing those who were inspired by God to write down their anti-Trinitarian statements – despite the fact that Waggoner never claimed and was never considered by the founders of the SDA Church to be directly inspired by God with any kind of privileged or prophetic voice (unlike Ellen White).
Michael also argues against Ty’s book, The Heavenly Trio (Link) where Ty presents the concept that the Godhead must be comprised of more than one individual for the very reason that God, in his very essence, “is Love” (1 John 4:7). Of course, since love is defined as the selfless regard for another, love could not exist if the Godhead was ever comprised of just one individual.  Michael counters by saying that this would require God to be dependent upon something or someone outside of Himself, which simply isn’t Biblical.  Yet, the Bible, particularly the Gospel of John, seems to be very clear in this regard, that the Godhead was never ever comprised of just one individual since both the Father and Jesus are eternal beings – without beginning of Days or End of life – the “Alpha and the Omega” (Revelation 1:8; 21:6, and 22:13). John clarifies:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)
Clearly, then, the concept that the Godhead does consist of more than one individual or “person”, is quite consistent with the claims of the Bible.  Ellen White simply confirms this Biblical concept.


Ellen White:

Now, while Michael’s presentations are certainly much more polished and visually appealing compared to what I’ve usually experienced from anti-Trinitarians who still love to reference Ellen White, he has the same basic problem as all of the others I’ve encountered.  He cites only select comments from Ellen White on this topic while avoiding those comments of hers that are clearly Trinitarian in nature. The fact of the matter is that, while many of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church were indeed anti-Trinitarian, including James White, Ellen White was not – and wrote more and more strongly in support of Trinitarian concepts as time went on during the founding of the SDA Church. Consider, for example, this rather emphatic statement concerning the Divine nature of Jesus:
“Christ was God essentially, and in the highest sense. He was with God from all eternity, God over all, blessed forevermore.” – Ellen White, Review and Herald, April 5, 1906 par. 6
“There never was a time when He [Christ] was not in close fellowship with the eternal God” – Ellen White, Selected Testimonies, August 29, 2–3).
While it seems hard to get much more definitive than that, perhaps her strongest statement, and the statement that convinced many church leaders in her day to become Trinitarian in their thinking, was her statement that:
“In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 530)

M. L. Andreasen:

The following account of M. L. Andreasen is very interesting in this regard.
An Adventist named M.L. Andreasen visited Mrs. White and asked to see her original handwritten papers. During 1909 Andreasen spent three months at Elmshaven where he was able to look at her handwritten manuscripts. He wrote of this visit in October 1953:
“In her own handwriting I saw the statements which I was sure she had not written—could not have written. Especially was I struck with the now familiar quotation in Desire of Ages, p. 530:
“In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.”
This statement at that time was revolutionary and compelled a complete revision of my former view — and that of the denomination — on the deity of Christ.”
Testimony of M. L. Andreasen, October 15, 1953, White Estate Document File 961 – emphasis added.
To effectively say that the Son did not derive His existence from the Father, severely shook many of our leading church founders. And, before long, it was clear to pretty much everyone that a once cherished view regarding the origin and nature of Jesus had been dealt a death blow by Ellen White. Just as Andreasen says — it brought about a “complete revision” of the SDA presentation on the deity of Christ.

Women’s ordination:

As a relevant aside, McCaffrey also argues against the concept of women’s ordination as pastors based on his anti-Trinitarian views. He compares those who seek to introduce women’s ordination to the rebellion of Korah (Link). This conclusion easily flows from his idea that Jesus is naturally subordinate to God the Father and therefore the woman is naturally subordinate to the man. This is due to the fact that Adam and Eve were created to reflect the image and hierarchy of the Godhead. This is despite the fact that Ellen White wrote that Adam and Eve were originally created to be equals – without one being the “head” over the other.

“When God created Eve, He designed that she should possess neither inferiority nor superiority to the man, but that in all things she should be his equal. The holy pair were to have no interest independent of each other; and yet each had an individuality in thinking and acting. But after Eve’s sin, as she was first in the transgression, the Lord told her that Adam should rule over her. She was to be in subjection to her husband, and this was a part of the curse.” – Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 484

Therefore, the argument against women’s ordination from the assumption of the original inferiority of the woman to the man is mistaken.  It is only because of sin that the woman became subject to any man, and this is only in reference to her own husband – not to just any man. My own wife, for example, has not been placed, by God, in subjection to any and all men, but only to me as her own husband – and that only because of the fallen world in which we live where conflicts naturally arise in any marriage relationship, no matter how loving, and therefore a leadership role must be assigned.


Anyway, the long and short of it is that Michael is wrong concerning Ellen White’s position on the Trinity.  If one wants to be anti-Trinitarian, such views must find support outside of the writings of Ellen White. One just can’t reasonably use Ellen White in support of an anti-Trinitarian position since she was, in fact, clearly Trinitarian in her thinking – which is why the SDA Church is Trinitarian today.  Without Ellen White, the SDA Church probably wouldn’t be Trinitarian since most of the founders were not…
In addition, for me, if Jesus had a beginning and was dependent upon the Father for His own origin and existence, then Jesus cannot rightfully be called “God” in the highest sense.  It would also mean that God, in the highest sense, did not really die for mankind on the cross; that God did not really sacrifice Himself for our sins personally; that God did not step down from His throne for me; that He did not personally trade places with me.  This means that Satan was right, in a sense, that God would never personally sacrifice Himself, in the highest sense, to save another. This also means that the Law of God is not actually equal with the Father, but with that of a lesser being. It really changes, fundamentally, what happened on the Cross… and makes it a whole lot less amazing and beautiful to me.
Beyond this, the idea that the official SDA views on the Trinity are the same as that of the Catholic Church isn’t true either. The Catholic view of the Trinity is more like that of Michael and Nader, in reality, in that Jesus is seen, by the Catholic Church, as being “actively and eternally generated by the Father” (Link) – which is very much different compared to the SDA concept where Jesus has life “original, unborrowed, underived”. 
I’ve also listed further thoughts and quotes below (and as an attached file) that might be helpful.

Additional Notes:

James and Ellen White:

The inexplicable trinity that makes the godhead three in one and one in three is bad enough, but that ultra-Unitarianism that makes Christ inferior to the Father is worse.

James White, Christ Equal With God, Review and Herald, Nov. 29, 1877.

James White’s early statements on the trinity are uniformly negativem, but in 1876 and 1877 he followed her [Ellen White’s] lead. In an editorial comparison of the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists with Seventh Day Baptists, he included the Trinity among the doctrines which “neither [SDAs nor SDBs] regard as tests of Christian character.” “Adventists hold the divinity of Christ so nearly with the trinitarian,” James White observed, “that we apprehend no trial [controversy] here.”

James White, “The Two Bodies,” RH Oct. 12, 1876, 116; cf. Froom, Movement of Destiny, 178.

Ellen White comments on the trinity in the baptisimal narrative, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost”.

Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts, vols. 1, 3 (Battle Creek, MI: Steam Press of the Review and Herald Office, 1858; Steam Press of the SDA Publishing Association, 1864), 1:17-18, 22-28; 3:33-34

The Comforter that Christ promised to send after He ascended to heaven, is the Spirit in all the fulness of the Godhead, making manifest the power of divine grace to all who receive and believe in Christ as a personal Saviour. There are three living persons of the heavenly trio; in the name of these three great powers—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these powers will co‑operate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their efforts to live the new life in Christ.

E. G. White, Special Testimonies, Series B, no. 7 (1905), 62-63.

Perhaps Mrs. White’s first statement that is clearly dissonant with her antitrinitarian colleagues comes in 1869 in a landmark chapter, “The Sufferings of Christ,” where in the opening paragraph she asserts on the basis of Heb 1:3; Col 1:19; and Phil 2:6 that Christ in His pre-existence was “equal with God.”

Ellen G. White, “Testimony 17 (1869),” in Testimonies for the Church, 9 vols. (1855-1909; reprint Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1948), 2:200; cf. “The Son of God was in the form of God, and he thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (E. G. White, Spirit of Prophecy [1877], 2:10).

For another evidence of Ellen White’s leading of her colleagues, note that her assertions that Christ was uncreated preceded by more than two decades Uriah Smith’s published acceptance of that concept.

Ellen G. White, “The First Advent of Christ,” Review and Herald, Dec. 17, 1872, par. 4; later published in Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2 (Battle Creek, MI: SDA Publishing Association, 1877), 9-10; cf. E. G. White, “Bible Study,” Review and Herald, Jan 11, 1881, par. 3.
Uriah Smith, Thoughts on the Revelation (Battle Creek, MI: SDA Publishing Association, 1865), 59, calls Christ the first created being; a view repudiated in Looking Unto Jesus (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald, 1898), 17, 12.

In another clear break with the prevailing semi-Arian consensus, Ellen White declared in 1878 that Christ was the “eternal Son.”

Ellen G. White, “An Appeal to the Ministers,” Review and Herald, August 8, 1878, par. 4; Ellen G. White to E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones, Feb. 18, 1887 (Letter 37, 1887), in Manuscript Releases,15:25, par. 3 (also in idem, 1888 Materials, 28.3); idem, “‘Search the Scriptures.’ John 5:39,” in Youth’s Instructor, August 31, 1887, par. 1; idem, “The Truth Revealed in Jesus,” Review and Herald, Feb. 8, 1898, par. 2.

Ellen White did not understand his eternal Sonship to imply derivation from the Father. Sonship in His preexistence denoted that He was of the same nature as the Father, in unity and close relationship with the Father, but it did not imply that Christ had a beginning. For in taking human flesh Christ became the Son of God “in a new sense.” From the perspective of His humanity, He for the first time had a “beginning,” and also, as a human, He began a new relationship of dependence on the Father.

A pamphlet published in 1897 carried the next major component in her developing doctrine of God, that the Holy Spirit is “the third person of the Godhead.” (Special Testimonies for Ministers and Workers, No. 10, 1897). This concept would receive wider attention and more permanent form in The Desire of Ages (1898), where she repeated and made emphatic the previous two points: “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived,” and the Holy Spirit is the “Third Person of the Godhead.” All that remains for her capstone statements of 1901 and 1905 is to affirm most explicitly that the three “eternal heavenly dignitaries,” the “three highest powers in heaven,” the “three living persons of the heavenly trio,” are one in nature, character, and purpose, but not in person.

E. G. White, Manuscript 130, 1901, in Manuscript Releases, 16:205, quoted in idem, Evangelism (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1946), 616 (but erroneously attributed to Ms. 145, 1901); idem, Special Testimonies, Series B, no. 7 (1905), 51, 62-63, quoted in Evangelism, 617.3, 615.1.

Almighty God:

Jesus referred to himself as “Almighty God” – not just the “Mighty God”:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. (Genesis 17:1)

God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD.  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. (Exodus 6:2-3)Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me. (Genesis 43:3)

All the communion between heaven and the fallen race has been through Christ. It was the Son of God that gave to our first parents the promise of redemption. It was He who revealed Himself to the patriarchs. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses understood the gospel. They looked for salvation through man’s Substitute and Surety. These holy men of old held communion with the Saviour who was to come to our world in human flesh; and some of them talked with Christ and heavenly angels face to face. (Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 366)
It was Christ who from the bush on Mount Horeb spoke to Moses saying, “I Am That I Am. . . . Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you.” Ex. 3:14. (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 24)It was He who declared Himself to Moses as the I am. It was He who in the pillar of cloud and of fire had been the guide of Israel. This was He whom seers had long foretold. He was the Desire of all nations, the Root and the Offspring of David, and the Bright and Morning Star. (ibid. p. 54)Christ was not only the leader of the Hebrews in the wilderness–the Angel in whom was the name of Jehovah, and who, veiled in the cloudy pillar, went before the host–but it was He who gave the law to Israel. Amid the awful glory of Sinai, Christ declared in the hearing of all the people the ten precepts of His Father’s law. It was He who gave to Moses the law engraved upon the tables of stone. It was Christ that spoke to His people through the prophets. (Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 366)

The Trinity and changing views over time in the SDA Church:

It is a historical fact that the understanding of our SDA Church pioneers changed over time. For example, In 1846 James White referred to “the old unscriptural trinitarian creed, viz., that Jesus is the eternal God.” (
The Day Star, Jan. 21, 1846.) But in 1876 he wrote that “S. D. Adventists hold the divinity of Christ so nearly with the Trinitarians, that we apprehend no trial here.” (Review and Herald, Oct 12, 1876). And a year later he declared his belief in the equality of the Son with the Father and condemned any view as erroneous that “makes Christ inferior to the Father.” (Review and HeraldNov. 29, 1877, p. 72.)


Consider also that in 1896 W. W. Prescott wrote,As Christ was twice born, once in eternity, the only begotten of the Father, and again in the flesh, thus uniting the divine with the human in that second birth, so we, who have been born once already in the flesh, are to have the second birth, being born again in the Spirit …” (Review and HeraldApril 14, 1896, 232.)

Twenty three years later at the 1919 Bible Conference, during a discussion on the divinity of Christ, Prescott changed his mind and admitted,

“I was in the same place that Brother Daniells was, and was taught the same things [that Christ was the beginning of God’s creative work, that to speak of the third person of the Godhead or of the trinity was heretical] by authority, and without doing my own thinking or studying I suppose [sic] I was right. But I found out something different.” (1919 Bible Conference Transcripts, July 6, 1919, 58.)

When Prescott raised the question, “Can we believe in the deity of Christ without believing in the eternity of Christ?” One of the participants answered, “I have done so for years.” To this Prescott replied,

“That is my very point — that we have used terms in that accommodating sense that are not really in harmony with Scriptural teaching.

We believed a long time that Christ was a created being, In spite of what the Scripture says. I say this, that passing over the experience I have passed over myself in this matter — this accommodating use of terms which makes the Deity without eternity, is not my conception now of the gospel of Christ. I think it falls short of the whole idea expressed in the Scriptures, and leaves us not with the kind of Savior I believe in now, but a sort of human view — a semi-human being. As I view it, the deity involves eternity. The very expression involves it. You cannot read the Scripture and have the idea of deity without eternity.” (1919 Bible Conference Transcripts, July 6, 1919, 62.)

Trinitarian ideas introduced after Ellen White?

What about the argument that only after the death of Ellen White was the Trinitarian doctrine introduced into the SDA Church?

The Comforter that Christ promised to send after He ascended to heaven, is the Spirit in all the fullness of the Godhead, making manifest the power of divine grace to all who receive and believe in Christ as a personal Savior. There are three living persons of the heavenly trio; in the name of these three great powers — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these powers will co-operate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their efforts to live the new life in Christ. (EGW, Evangelism p. 614 615)

This statement from Ellen White is overwhelmingly Trinitarian. Only someone who believed the Trinity doctrine would speak of “three living persons in the heavenly trio.” Anti Trinitarians would not use such language.

Furthermore, her bold statements on the Trinity took many by surprise. M. L. Andreasen recounts,

“I remember how astonished we were when Desire of Ages was first published, for it contained some things that we believed were unbelievable; among other things the doctrine of the trinity which was not generally accepted by Adventists then.” (Quoted in Russell Holt, “The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Seventh-day Adventist Denomination” Term Paper, Andrews University, 1969, 20.)

During 1909 Andreasen spent three months at Elmshaven where he was able to look at her handwritten manuscripts. He wrote of this experience:

Especially was I struck with the now familiar quotation in Desire of Ages, page 530:

“In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.” This statement at that time was revolutionary and compelled a complete revision of my former view — and that of the denomination — on the deity of Christ.(Testimony of M. L. Andreasen, Oct. 15, 1953, DF 961.)

This clearly took place long before Ellen White’s death. Thus, the charge that only after Ellen G. White’s death was the Trinity doctrine introduced into the church cannot be sustained.

Catholic Origin:

But what about the argument that the Trinitarian doctrine is of Papal or Catholic origin?

Beyond the fact that not everything the Catholic Church stands for is wrong, the historical record does not support this argument. The Trinitarian doctrine was originally formulated as an official doctrine at the ecumenical Council of Nicaea in AD 325. The Council was assembled in Nicaea (Asia Minor) to deal with the Arian controversy. Of the 318 bishops only eight came from the West, the rest were from the Eastern churches where the bishop of Rome had very little influence. The bishop of Rome himself was not even present, he sent two priests to represent him. This clearly contradicts the claim that the Trinity is of Roman Catholic origin.

Such a dramatic change was the result, in no small part, to the very clear anti-Arian statement of Ellen White in her very popular book, Desire of Ages.  The following account of M. L. Andreasen is very interesting in this regard.
An Adventist named M.L. Andreasen visited Mrs. White and asked to see her original handwritten papers. He wrote of this visit in October 1953:
“In her own handwriting I saw the statements which I was sure she had not written—could not have written. Especially was I struck with the now familiar quotation in Desire of Ages, p. 530:
“In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.”
This statement at that time was revolutionary and compelled a complete revision of my former view — and that of the denomination — on the deity of Christ.”
“In Him was life, original, unborrowed, underived.” To effectively say that the Son did not derive His existence from the Father, severely shook many of our leading men, and before long it was clear that a once cherished view had been dealt a heavy blow. Just as Andreasen says — it brought about a “complete revision” of the SDA presentation on the deity of Christ.
Excerpts from the following article are very interesting in this context:



Part 1: Historical Overview




— Andrews University Seminary Studies, Vol. 41, No. 1, 113-129.
Copyright © 2003 Andrews University Press.

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.
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.

These statements came as a shock to the theological leadership of the church. M. L. Andreasen, who had become an Adventist just four years earlier at the age of eighteen, and who would eventually teach at the church ‘s North American seminary, claimed that the new concept was so different from the previous understanding that some prominent leaders doubted whether Ellen White had really written it. After Andreasen entered the ministry in 1902, he made a special trip to Ellen White’s California home to investigate the issue for himself. Ellen White welcomed him and gave him “access to the manuscripts.” He had brought with him ” a number of quotations,” to “see if they were in the original in her own handwriting.” He recalled: I was sure Sister White had never written, ‘In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived. But now I found it in her own handwriting just as it had been published. It was so with other statements. As I checked up, I found that they were Sister White’s own expressions.”[41]

Desire of Ages contained equally uncompromising statements regarding the deity of the Holy Spirit. Repeatedly it employed the personal pronoun “he” in referring to the Holy Spirit, climaxing with the impressive statement, “The Spirit was to be given as a regenerating agent, and without this, the sacrifice of Christ would have been of no avail. . . . Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power (emphasis supplied).[42]

These and similar statements drove some to a fresh examination of the biblical evidence about the Godhead. Others, disbelieving that they could have been wrong for so many years, studied to bolster the old arguments. Ellen White’s testimony, however, by calling attention to Scriptures whose significance had been overlooked,[43] created a paradigm shift that could not be reversed. As Adventists returned to the Scriptures to see “whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11), they eventually came to a growing consensus that the basic concept of the Trinity was a biblical truth to be accepted and embraced.

While Desire of Ages set in motion a paradigm shift regarding the Adventist understanding of the Godhead, it was not Ellen White’s last word on the subject. Later, during the Kellogg crisis of 1902-1907, she repeatedly used expressions such as “three living persons of the heavenly trio,” while continuing to maintain the essential unity of the Godhead. Thus she affirmed the plurality and the unity, the threeness and the oneness, the foundational elements of a simple, biblical understanding of the Trinity.[44]

Evidence that at least a portion of church leadership recognized the Desire of Ages statements as removing the objections to a biblical doctrine of the Trinity is a summary of Adventist beliefs published by F. M. Wilcox in the Review and Herald in 1913. Wilcox, editor of the denomination’s most influential periodical, wrote that “Seventh-day Adventists believe, 1. In the divine Trinity. This Trinity consists of the eternal Father, . . . the Lord Jesus Christ, . . . [and] the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead.”[45]

Part 2

[Ellen White’s] writings about the Godhead show a clear progression, not primarily from anti- to pro-trinitarianism, but from relative ambiguity to greater specificity. Some of her early statements are capable of various interpretations, but her later statements, 1898-1906, are explicit to the point of being dogmatic. Her change of view appears clearly to have been a matter of growth and progression, rather than reversal, because unlike her husband and others of her associates, she never directly attacked the view of the Trinity that she would later explicitly support.

The conceptual key that unlocks the enigma of Ellen White’s developmental process regarding the Trinity is the discovery that her writings describe at least two distinct varieties of trinitarian belief. One of these views she consistently opposed throughout her adult ministry, and the other she eventually endorsed. The trinitarian concept that she opposed was one that “spiritualized” the members of the Godhead as distant, impersonal, mystical, and ultimately unreal. The concept that she favored portrayed God as personal, literal, and tangible.  She did not initially recognize His trinitarian nature, but when she did, she would describe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as real individuals, emphasizing Their “threeness” as willing, thinking, feeling, social, and relational individuals, and explaining Their oneness in terms of nature, character, purpose, and love, but not of person. The basis of these differentiations will become clearer as we examine the historical context and process of her developing thought.

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