Skip to content

Isolated Clear Misinterpretations

I have included comprehensive responses to a few clear misinterpretations that are commonly repeated among the community of believers adopting a non-triune understanding of the Godhead. In my mind, the evidence is overwhelming that incorrect conclusions are built from misinterpretation of the text in these cases. Yet these arguments for a non-triune belief continue to gain currency.

Only the Father & the Son at the Heavenly Council

Christ the Word, the Only Begotten of God, was one with the eternal Father,–one in nature, in character, and in purpose,–the only being in all the universe that could enter into all the counsels and purposes of God. (GC 493)

The question here seems to be: If Christ was the only being able to enter the counsels/councils of God, then what does this quote tell us about the Holy Spirit, or about our assumptions/definitions regarding the nature of the Holy Spirit?

To me, it seems that the options are:

  1. The Holy Spirit was not able to enter the councils of God
  2. The Holy Spirit may (or may not) have been in the council, but is not a ‘being’
  3. The quote actually doesn’t tell us anything in particular that defines or comments on where, who or what the Holy Spirit is.

Examining the above options:

  1. FALSE: See Counsels on Health, 222, that says about the heavenly council: “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit gave Themselves to the working out of the plan of redemption” (see also full context). So the Holy Spirit was present, and thus by implication, was able to enter the councils of God.
  2. FALSE: See Manuscript Releases, vol. 7, 267-8 that says (naming the Holy Ghost/Spirit as one of them): “the three holiest beings in heaven.” Thus the Holy Spirit is a ‘being’.
  3. TRUE: We have to conclude that the quote doesn’t intend to define or even imply who or what the Holy Spirit is, or even make any comment about the Holy Spirit’s nature or presence at the council.

Then why did EGW say “only”? The context tells us:

“In all the councils of God, Christ was a participant, while Lucifer was not permitted thus to enter into the divine purposes. “Why,” questioned this mighty angel, “should Christ have the supremacy? Why is He thus honored above Lucifer?” (GC 495)

So the reason she said “only” seems to be because she was excluding Lucifer.

Assuming an alternative perspective of who/what the Holy Spirit is (that the Holy Spirit is not a distinct person or being), only option (2) of the above options satisfies this perspective. This is directly and completely refuted by the 7MR quote.

Option (1) could be reverted to, with stress placed on the word “all” in the above GC493 quote. It could be argued that the Holy Spirit somehow had less access than Christ to the council, even though the CH quote says He was present. But this still doesn’t suit the alternative view of the Godhead, which has the Holy Spirit being the omnipresence of the Father and Son. That would necessitate this ‘attribute’ having full access to the divine council. Or it could simply become a moot point if we are merely talking about an attribute and not an entity, in which case the reasoning is circular; it begs the question.

Now, some further comment about language and the use of “only” lest there is any remaining doubt. Two examples.

First example. Two paragraphs above, I said “only option (2) of the above options satisfies this perspective.” I’m sure the reader understands that I meant, out of (1) & (2), this is the only option. Of course option (3) would always work for either a triune or a non-triune perspective. I’m sure my use of “only” is readily understood without the need for this explanation. But I’m highlighting it to provide an example of someone using the word ‘only’ in a way that I’m suggesting Ellen White did in the quote(s) in question. She was not using it in a rigid and absolute sense. She can’t have been, as we’ve seen from her other quotes, otherwise she would be contradicting herself. That doesn’t make her original statement wrong, it just means that we can’t force language/words to always take the most rigid definition or interpretation.

For instance, “Son” does not always mean there was a mother. The rich man and Lazarus parable does not mean we have an immortal soul. Proverbs 7-9 does not mean Jesus is female. Isaiah 9:6 does not make every instance of the titles: ‘the Son’ and ‘the Father’ simply two names for the one Being/Person. We all agree on these things, because we are innately familiar with the rules and limits of language as a vehicle for the communication of concepts and ideas.

Second example. Use of GC493 (and PP34 like it) as an argument for a non-triune Godhead based on the word “only” fails to take into account a host of other similar quotes that could be used to argue a host of conflicting claims, such as these:

“The Father and the Son alone are to be exalted.” (Youth’s Instructor, July 7, 1898)

“Christ alone is to be exalted.” (COL 161)

If you take the first quote to mean that the Holy Spirit is not the third person of the Godhead, then one would assume consistency would demand that we ask the same questions of the Father on reading the second quote. Of course, the context sheds light on the matter in both cases: God is to be exalted only. What is being excluded is men, not either the Father or Holy Spirit.

This is conclusively demonstrated in the following EGW quote:

… then may we all unite to swell the songs,—
“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” (RH January 4, 1881 par. 19)

Other “Only” Quotes that are not Absolute

Who Only has Immortality?

The souls of men and women are of infinite value in God’s sight, not because, as many declare, they have natural immortality, but because it is possible for them through faith in Christ to gain immortality. Christ only has immortality. Belief in him is to the repentant soul the germ of a new life. (Review & Herald, July 10, 1900, par. 15)

Compare 1 Tim 6:16, which (although it doesn’t matter for the point here) almost certainly is talking about the Father (even though the Son is the subject of the previous verse):

Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

From analysing the two quotes and from our understanding of God from the remainder of Scripture, it is clear that Christ is not strictly the only Being in the universe that has immortality. Clearly, the Father does too. Those holding both triune and non-triune views will most likely agree on that. Although the non-triune proponent may wish to give the Father pre-eminence in the attribute of immortality, such that the R&H quote will be more of an anomaly to their non-triune perspective.

It’s not difficult to extend the argument, then, that the Holy Spirit can also be another being (as in 7MR 267-8) possessing immortality.

Only Potentate

Self is exalted, and Jesus, the blessed and only Potentate, the Mediator between God and man, does not work with them. (21MR 455)

(This is consistent with 1 Tim 6:15, which also specifies Jesus as the only Potentate.)

The question here for one wishing to derive conclusions as to the nature of the Godhead based on “only” statements is, clearly: Is the title of Potentate therefore not applicable to the Father? We all agree that it should be applicable also to the Father. We are all comfortable with Ellen White’s use of “only” as being not in such a strict and absolute sense as to exclude the Father.

Only Agent to Overcome Sin

The Spirit was to be given as a regenerating agent…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. (DA 671)


None but Christ can fashion anew the character that has been ruined by sin. (DA 37)


The Son of God alone can do the great work of illuminating the soul. (CE 97)

The ‘only’ aspect of these quotes are easily reconciled by one holding a non-triune view, who believes that the Holy Spirit is Christ (i.e., they are one and the same Being). Albeit the non-triune proponent has an unrelated challenge with the Holy Spirit being called “the Third Person of the Godhead”.

These quotes pose another related problem, however, if “only” is taken always in its strictest and most absolute sense. That problem is: Is the Father unable to also do those things?

For the triune proponent, there is no problem in that the understanding of “only” cannot always be absolute so as to force exclusion of all things not otherwise mentioned, as is now abundantly evident.

Known Only

“No man, nor even the highest angel, can estimate the great cost [of God’s condescension in preparing the gospel feast]: it is known only to the Father and the Son.” (Bible Echo, Oct 28, 1895)

Compare an apparently unrelated quote, but with similar word usage:

Brother Faulkhead told Elder Daniells and others that I gave the particular sign known only by the highest order of Masons, which he had just entered. .–Letter 46, 1892. (3SM 85)

And also:

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. Matt 24:36

The second quote (from 3SM) shows that it is possible for Ellen White to use the word sequence “known only” in a manner that is not absolutely exclusive. Clearly, God and other supernatural beings must have known the secret Masonic sign involved.

Thus there is also no problem for us to understand from the Bible Echo quote that there may also be others not mentioned who also “can estimate the great cost”. That is, it is not beyond the realms of textual integrity that there could be a distinct being, i.e., the Holy Spirit, who also knows this great cost.

However, it is readily admitted that the Bible Echo statement on its own seems to support a non-triune perspective more readily than a triune one. But by no means conclusively, nor with much weight. It can only carry as much weight as we allow Matt 24:36 (quoted above) to have for someone trying to prove that Christ is not God or not omniscient, or, as we allow any of the other relevant ‘only’ statements above to be the basis for excluding the Father from the Godhead.

Only Being

The only being who was one with God lived the law in humanity, descended to the lowly life of a common laborer, and toiled at the carpenter’s bench with his earthly parent.” (Signs of the Times, Oct. 14, 1897)


It is not now the work of the sinner to make peace with God, but to accept Christ as his peace and righteousness. Thus man becomes one with Christ and one with God. There is no way by which the heart may be made holy, save through faith in Christ. (TMK 109)

Once again, clearly, if we take the ST “only” statement to be strictly absolute, then it would not allow for the second (TMK) statement to be true.

Alternatively, it would not allow for any sinner to have made peace with God at the time of the Incarnation. But that conclusion has other implications that make it untenable.

Thus one asks: What was Ellen White trying to communicate about the nature of the Godhead in this statement, if anything? She has elsewhere described the “three holiest beings in heaven”, including the Holy Ghost as one of them (7MR 267-8). So we cannot conclude that the Holy Spirit is not a being.

Can we conclude that the Holy Spirit was not one with God? This would not seem reasonable, and does not well fit triune or non-triune views. Similarly, in light of the TMK109 quote, we cannot rightly conclude that sinners who make peace with God cannot also become one with God.

What I believe we can conclude is that Jesus was unique, with a unique role in salvation history that no other Being could have.

The Holy Spirit Is Jesus Divested of Humanity

Another isolated clear instance of misinterpretation is derived from the following:

Cumbered with humanity, Christ could not be in every place personally; therefore it was altogether for their advantage that He should leave them, go to His father, and send the Holy Spirit to be His successor on earth. The Holy Spirit is Himself divested of the personality of humanity and independent thereof. He would represent Himself as present in all places by His Holy Spirit, as the Omnipresent. (14MR 23)

Some cite the above quote as evidence that the Holy Spirit is Christ, based on the sentence: “The Holy Spirit is Himself divested of the personality of humanity and independent thereof.” They suggest the pronoun “Himself” refers back to the noun “Christ” in the preceding sentence. They argue that “Himself” cannot refer to the immediate antecedent noun “Holy Spirit” because it would not make sense to say that the Holy Spirit is divested of the personality of humanity, having never possessed it. They also argue that it would not flow for the passage to be rendered: “The Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit divested of…” compared to rendering it with “Christ” substituted for “Himself” instead.

Ellen White herself clarifies this question when she rewrote the same thought for Desire of Ages:

The Holy Spirit is Christ’s representative, but divested of the personality of humanity, and independent thereof. Cumbered with humanity, Christ could not be in every place personally.  Therefore it was for their interest that He should go to the Father, and send the Spirit to be His successor on earth. (DA 669)

The substitution of “Christ” for “Himself” (for the first of the two “Himself”s in the 14MR quote above) falls on at least five counts, each of which would be sufficient alone:

  1. Grammatically. Grammatical rules for reflexive pronouns require that “Himself” should point back to the subject of the same sentence, rather than some other noun from a different sentence. So, the first of the two instances of “Himself” must point back to the Holy Spirit. The second instance of “Himself” must point back to the pronoun “He” as the subject of that sentence. Upon reading that sentence, it is contextually clear that the pronoun “He” in that case does refer back to Christ, even though the dense use of pronouns does require a double-take. Interestingly, Ellen White never published this statement herself. She wrote it as a letter to her son, Edson. The version she wrote for the public, in Desire of Ages, leaves no room for confusion of pronouns.
  2. Context. The paragraph in the letter to Edson White that the above quote comes from commences with: “Although our Lord ascended from earth to heaven, the Holy Spirit was His representative among men.” While it is possible for someone to represent themselves as something or someone else (only one person involved), it is not possible for someone to be a representative of themselves. A representative must always be of another person/entity (two persons/entities involved). I can represent myself or another, at court. I can represent myself as something I am not, or am not always. But if I am a person’s representative, I am not that person.
  3. Comparison of similar word construction in EGW’s writings. Every other time EGW uses the phrase “is himself” she is ALWAYS referring to the immediate antecedent noun, not a noun more distant. That is, EGW’s writings consistently reflect the normal grammatical reading of this word construction, whereby “Himself” is understood in the 14MR quote as referring to the Holy Spirit, not Christ. Another similar example from Ellen White’s writings is: “God is Himself the Rock of Ages, a refuge for his people…” (Review & Herald, Feb. 24, 1885 par. 21). While it may appear tautologous to substitute “God” back for “Himself” here to render the quote: “God is God the Rock of Ages…” there is no other alternative. This is the beginning of a paragraph. This was a word construction commonly employed by Ellen White. A search of her writings will further substantiate this.
  4. Comparison to DA 669, where EGW rewrote the same idea as quoted above. It is clear that “divested” could be used by Ellen White for something that was never once possessed, and furthermore it is highly probable that the 14MR was never intended to say that the Holy Spirit is Christ, based on the evidence of the DA quote alone.
  5. Notwithstanding the fluidity in some non-triune perspectives, there is conceptual weakness in the interpretation that “Himself”=Christ when comparing with other statements of EGW. E.g., DA 25 says that Jesus is “forever to retain His human nature”.

Summing up, by far the most likely correct reading of pronouns in the 14MR quote is as follows:

Cumbered with humanity, Christ could not be in every place personally; therefore it was altogether for their advantage that He [Christ] should leave them, go to His [Christ’s] father, and send the Holy Spirit to be His [Christ’s] successor on earth. The Holy Spirit is Himself [the Holy Spirit; reflexive pronoun used for emphasis] divested of the personality of humanity and independent thereof. He [Christ] would represent Himself [Christ] as present in all places by His [Christ’s] Holy Spirit, as the Omnipresent. (14MR 23)

Those who feel that the final sentence denies that the Spirit is a distinct Person but is Christ’s (or the Father’s) omnipresence need to consider the following parallel. Such a conclusion is no more necessary than insisting that Jesus is merely the Father made visible, in order to  make sense out of Jesus and Philip’s exchange  in John 14:7-ll, especially verse 9:

Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; so how can you say, “Show us the Father?”’ (John 14:9)

Comparison of baptismal events and John 17 help to clarify what Jesus meant. Thus it is logically possible to believe that Christ is present with us by His Holy Spirit without denying that the Spirit is a distinct Person.