What Happened to Christ's Deity When He Died?

One of the early Adventist arguments against the Trinity doctrine was that if Christ had been eternally pre-existent with the Father, He would have been immortal and thus could not have died on Calvary's cross.

In order to protect the reality of His death on the cross, the pioneers felt they had to deny that Christ had pre-existent divine immortality. Ellen White plainly rejected this reasoning, explaining that when Jesus died on the cross, "Deity did not die. Humanity died" (MS 131, 1897). Again she wrote, "Humanity died: divinity did not die" (Youth's Instructor, Aug. 4, 1898; both quotations are in SDA Bible Commentary, 5:1113).

In explaining that only Christ's humanity died, she in no way minimized the divine component of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. Christ's deity did not die, but suffered something far worse­the rending of the Trinity. "Christ felt His unity with the Father broken up" (Desire of Ages, 686) and suffered "unutterable anguish . . . at the hiding of His Father's face" (ibid., 755). "The withdrawal of the divine countenance from the Saviour in this hour of supreme anguish pierced His heart with a sorrow that can never be fully understood by man." Christ "feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal." She explains that "It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father's wrath upon [Christ] as man's substitute, that . . . broke the heart of the Son of God" and wrung from His lips the agonizing cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (ibid., 753-754).

Thus she elevated the sacrifice of Christ far above mere human dying because it involved the rending apart, "the temporary severing of the mysterious unity" of the Trinity (Erwin R. Gane, "The Arian or Anti-Trinitarian Views Presented in Seventh-day Adventist Literature and the Ellen G. White Answer" [M.A. Thesis, Andrews University, 1963], 92, 95).

While Christ's deity could not perish, it suffered the infinite ordeal of being separated from the Father, with whom He had been, until this, eternally One.