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Overwhelming Evidence Unanswered

If Ellen White was not communicating a triune view of God, what did she mean when she said:

“third person of the Godhead”, “three living persons of the heavenly trio”, “the three holiest beings in heaven”, “the three great powers of heaven”, “the three highest powers in the universe”, and “the three great worthies in heaven”?

More Quotes, More Context

This site has scratched the surface of some of the technical details of the Godhead. But if the reader is happy to accept Ellen White’s statements as authoritative, then it all becomes a bit of a non-issue because she is as clear as language allows, with statements such as (all emphasis is mine):

1. “We are baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and these three great, infinite powers are unitedly pledged to work on our behalf if we will cooperate with them.” (Ms 144, 1901 and several other places.)

2. “Evil had been accumulating for centuries and could only be restrained and resisted by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power.” (TM 392)

3. “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)

4. “The Godhead was stirred with pity for the race, and the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit gave Themselves to the working out of the plan of redemption. In order fully to carry out this plan, it was decided that Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, should give Himself an offering for sin.” (CH, 222)

5. “In the great closing work we shall meet with perplexities that we know not how to deal with; but let us not forget that the three great powers of heaven are working, that a divine hand is on the wheel, and that God will bring His promises to pass.” (8 Test. 254)

6. “What gift could He [Christ] bestow rich enough to signalize His ascension to the mediatorial throne? It must be worthy of His greatness and His royalty. He determined to give His representative, the third person of the Godhead. This gift could not be excelled. He would give all gifts in one, and therefore the divine Spirit, that converting, enlightening, and sanctifying power, would be His donation.” (SW, Nov. 28, 1905, in 6 SDA BC, 1053.)

7. “By our baptismal pledge we avouched and solemnly confessed the Lord Jehovah as our Ruler. We virtually took a solemn oath, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that henceforth our lives would be merged into the life of these three great Agencies … .” (Ms 67, 1907, in 1 SDA BC 1120.)

8. “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the three holy dignitaries of heaven, have declared that they will strengthen men to overcome the powers of darkness.” (Ms. 92, 1901, in 5 SDA BC, 1110.)

9. “…a receiver of the pledge from the three persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (Ms. 57, 1900, in 6 SDA BC, 1074.)

10. “When you gave yourself to Christ, you made a pledge in the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — the three great personal Dignitaries of heaven.” (Ms. 92, 1901, in 7 SDA BC 959.)

11. “We are to cooperate with the three highest powers in heaven, — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, — and these powers will work through us, making us workers together with God” (Spcl Test., Series B, no. 7, p. 51, 1905, in Ev. 617.)

12. “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 cooperate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their efforts to live the new life in Christ” (Ev. 615)

13. “We need to realise that the Holy Spirit, who is as much a person as God is a person, is walking through these grounds [Avondale campus].” (Ms. 66, 1899, in Ev. 616.)

14. “The Holy Spirit is a person, for He beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. … The Holy Spirit has a personality, else He could not bear witness to our spirits and with our spirits that we are the children of God. He must also be a divine person, else He could not search out the secrets which lie hidden in the mind of God. ‘For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” (Ms. 20, 1906, in Ev. 617.)

15. “The prince of the power of evil can only be held in check by the power of God in the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit” (Spcl Test, Series A, no. 10, p. 37, 1897, in Ev. 617.)

16. “As a Christian submits to the solemn rite of baptism, the three highest powers in the universe,–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,–place their approval on his act, pledging themselves to exert their power in his behalf as he strives to honor God.” (ST, August 16, 1905 par. 1)

17. “Here is where the work of the Holy Ghost comes in, after your baptism. You are baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. You are raised up out of the water to live henceforth in newness of life–to live a new life. You are born unto God, and you stand under the sanction and the power of the three holiest beings in heaven, who are able to keep you from falling.” (7MR 267)

18. “In the name of whom were you baptized? You went down into the water in the name of the three great Worthies in heaven–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” (1SAT 363)

19. “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived. ‘He that hath the Son hath life.’ 1 John 5: 12. The divinity of Christ is the believer’s assurance of eternal life.” (DA 530)

20. “With solemn dignity Jesus answered, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM.” Silence fell upon the vast assembly. The name of God, given to Moses to express the idea of the eternal presence, had been claimed as His own by this Galilean Rabbi. He had announced Himself to be the self-existent One, He who had been promised to Israel, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from the days of eternity.” Micah 5:2, margin.” (DA 469)

There are several other passages that describe Jesus as self-existent – such as the chapter “Misrepresentations of the Godhead” in Evangelism (from page 613), which I recommend.

Possible Objections Answered

I have not seen any persuasive response to these quotes by anyone attempting to uphold a non-triune view of God.

Attempted answers I have seen include:

  • Isolated statements are insufficient to build a doctrine. This is a true principle, but it does not find application here such that a non-triune view can be legitimately held, for two reasons. Firstly, each statement alone is sufficiently emphatic. Secondly, while each statement may be ‘isolated’ when only considered by itself, it is clear that such positively triune statements are a recurrent theme rather than isolated.
  • Ellen White’s writings were tampered with. This amounts to refusal to engage the evidence, which is overwhelmingly convincing in the other direction.
  • When understood from a performance perspective, we’ll arrive at a triune view, and when understood from a relational perspective, we’ll arrive at a non-triune view. This is merely circular reasoning (demonstrated elsewhere) coupled with failure to engage the text.
  • We need to ask from where did Christ get “life original, unborrowed, underived” – i.e., how that life got there. This does not make sense. It is like saying: “From where did Christ derive underived life?” Or: “What caused the uncaused cause?” Or: “Who created God?” If Jesus has underived life (and original and unborrowed), then it must be His originally. He must be self-existent (as Ellen White says, too). This objection seems to demand that the norms and understandability of language be overturned.
  • Our interpretation of ‘three/third’ or ‘person/s’ should not be so literal. This objection also seems to demand that the norms and understandability of language be overturned.

The final objection deserves a little further comment. The argument that the language is taken too literally is strange, considering the insistence on literalness for “Son of God”. The inconsistency is manifold:

  • The insistence on literalness for “Son of God” does not go so far as to insist on there being a mother. The extent to which ‘literalness’ should be applied seems selective and arbitrary. The core issue seems to be whether the Son had a beginning rather than whether there is a divine mother. There is no rule of language or theology which requires a “Son of God” to have a beginning in time while yet not requiring a mother. Such an expectation would be an arbitary distortion of the norms of language.
  • There is clear evidence of biblical use of “sons” metaphorically. E.g., the “sons of thunder” were not literally generated by thunder. Thus consistency does not require “son” to be always interpreted in the absence of metaphor. Yet there does not seem to be any precedent for abandoning the normal meaning of language when it comes to “third/three” and “person/s”; none has been put forward.
  • The insistence on literalness for “Son of God” to the extent of demanding a mother (although arbitrary, and also a straw man argument, as nobody is arguing for a pre-incarnation mother) could be satisfied simply by the realisation that the incarnated Jesus was born of Mary, after she was overshadowed by the power of the Highest. Note that the meaning and relevance of “Son” in the context of  the name “Son of God” goes beyond the human sonship of Jesus to Mary. But to require that it be stretched to include a point in time of origin after the existence of the Father is both arbitrary and unnecessary, while also being contrary to other evidence.

There is no logical reason provided for language to be turned on its head. There are no coherent alternative figurative meanings put forward, and no alternative definitions of “third/three” or “person/s” that allow for a non-triune view.

One argument deserves mention, not because of its merit, but because it is common. Some say that where Ellen White describes the Holy Spirit as the “third Person of the Godhead” she means ‘God in the third person’, as in the part of speech which is used to talk about a third party (as in, neither the one speaking, the first person, or the one being spoken to, the second person). This makes absolutely no sense for a number of reasons:

  • First, the capital P in Person signifies that out of respect for the Divine, Ellen White used capitalisation where normal rules of language would not otherwise require it. If she was trying to make reference to the part of speech being “third person” as opposed to “first person” or “second person”, the capitalisation would not be appropriate or relevant.
  • Second, normal use of language must be severely contorted to even make sense of these quotes meaning anything other than there being a minimum of three (numeric) Persons (noun) constituting the Godhead.
  • Third, nowhere else in her writings does Ellen White or any other able writer use language in any way similar to that proposed, whereby a word or phrase referring to a part of speech is slipped into writing that in no other way relates to a grammatical deconstruction. It would be like writing: “In the beginning God the noun created the heavens and the earth.”

I am very open to being persuaded otherwise. I am willing to be surprised, if someone can show me my error and also the harmony of a non-triune view of the Godhead. So far this has not been forthcoming.