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The Arian or Anti-Trinitarian Views Presented in Seventh-day Adventist Literature and the Ellen G. White Answer

by Erwin Roy Gane


C H A P T E R   II


Although he was not a seventh-day Sabbath observer, William Miller is regarded as the spiritual father of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Adventists are proud to identify themselves with a religious pioneer who manifested such remarkable insight as an exponent of prophecy, and who labored so tirelessly to warn the careless multitudes of the soon coming of Jesus. The burden of Miller’s message was the Second Advent of Christ. The doctrine of the nature of God was not, with him, a subject of immediate and paramount importance.


In spite of the strength of the Unitarian and Socinian movements in America in the first half of the nineteenth century, Miller, who was regarded as distinctly unorthodox in other respects, abided by the orthodox Trinitarian position. Some years after the infant Seventh-day Adventist movement had gained a firm hold on life, James White produced a work entitled, Sketches of the Christian Life and Public Labors of William Miller. White quotes Miller’s statement of faith written at Low Hampton, September 5, 1822:

"I hereby acknowledge that I have long believed it my duty… to leave, for the inspection of my brethren, friends and children, a brief statement of my faith (and which ought to be my practice); and I pray God to forgive me where I go astray. I made it a subject of prayer and meditation, and therefore, leave the following as my faith,—reserving the privilege of correction.  (Signed) Wm. Miller

"Article Two.

"I believe in one living and true God, and that there are three persons in the Godhead—as there is in man, the body, soul, and spirit. And if any one will tell me how these exist, I will tell him how the three persons of the Triune God are connected."1

Here then is an unequivocal declaration of Miller’s acceptance of the broad outline of Trinitarianism, with a frank admission of the mysterious nature of the union between the three persons on the Godhead. In the absence of evidence that he later exercised his "privilege of correction" by an expression of anti-Trinitarian views, we are justified in assuming that this was Miller’s belief to the day of his death.


One of Miller’s ardent supporters in preaching the imminent return of the Lord was Joshua V. Himes, a well-known minister of the denomination known as the "Christian Connection."2 In 1835, Rev, T. Newton Brown published his Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, which included an article on the "Christian Connection" written by Himes.3 The beginning of the Christian Connection is dated about 1800. No individual is recognized as the leader or founder of the sect. The members had come from a number of the more conservative religious denominations such as the Calvinistic Baptists, the Free-will and Six-principle Baptists, the Methodists and Presbyterians. Coming as they did from such a diversity of backgrounds, the members retained their variant opinions on doctrinal matters. Himes points out that the early distinguishing characteristic of the group was "universal toleration." In regard to their attitude to the doctrine of the Trinity, Himes wrote, "At first, they were generally Trinitarian; subsequently they have, almost unanimously, rejected the Trinitarian doctrine as unscriptural." 4 Then he proceeds to itemize the doctrines which are generally accepted by this sect:

That there is one living and true God, the Father almighty, who is unoriginated, independent, and eternal, the Creator and Supporter of all worlds; and that this God is one spiritual intelligence, one infinite mind, ever the same, never varying…. That Christ is the Son of God, the promised Messiah and Saviour of the world…5

The statement clearly states that the Father alone is "unoriginated, independent and eternal." Christ was then originated, dependent and brought into existence by the Father. This statement is of course quite consistent with Himes’ remark that the Christian Connection "have, almost unanimously, rejected the Trinitarian doctrine as unscriptural."6

It will become evident as this discussion progresses that where such views of Christ were prevalent, the Holy Spirit was generally divested of personality and separate existence as a member of the Deity, being regarded as a mere influence emanating from the Father and from Christ. This was the view held by the Christian Connection as enunciated by Himes. Among those beliefs which they generally accepted as Scriptural doctrines was the view "that the Holy Spirit is the power and energy of God, that holy influence of God by whose agency, in the use of means, the wicked are regenerated…."7 It is very significant that Himes, one of the spiritual fathers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, should hold these doctrines. It is of further significance that others of the pioneers of this Church had been members of the Christian Connection, prior to accepting the tenets of Seventh-day Adventism.8


Joseph Bates is justly revered by Seventh-day Adventists for his faithful part in the successful launching of the movement. In 1868 the Publishing Association of the Church issued The Autobiography of Elder Joseph Bates.9 Bates tells of his early struggles and labours. He mentions a revival of religion in the Christian Church at Fairhaven in 1827.10 Bates, at this time, was seriously considering uniting with some Christian group or another, and he was influenced by this revival. Since before their marriage his wife had been a member of the Christian Church. Bates had attended the meetings of this organization with is wife when he was at home and had become somewhat acquainted with their views. "They took the Scriptures for their only rule of faith and practice, renouncing all creeds."11 Bates’ parents were well established members of the Congregational Church and ardently hoped that he and his wife would also join them. But there were certain doctrinal matters which prevented this. Bates wrote, "But they embraced some points in their faith which I could not understand. I will name only two: their mode of baptism, and doctrine of the trinity."12

His father tried unsuccessfully to convince Joseph Bates that in these matters of doctrine the Congregational Church was correct. In regard to the subject of the Trinity, Bates wrote in 1868:

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. I said to my 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 my father, and you my son, then I can believe in the trinity."… In a few days I was immersed and joined the Christian Church.13

The Christian Church referred to the Christian Connection which, as has been seen, rejected the Trinitarian position. Later Bates became an active worker in this organization, and still later one of the founding fathers of the Sabbatarian Adventist movement.14

Joseph Bates’ objection to the doctrine of the Trinity evidenced an attitude which was to be reiterated forcefully by later militant Seventh-day Adventist anti-Trinitarians. Bates rejected Trinitarianism because it involves the complete identification of Father and Son. Of course, Trinitarianism does no such thing. William Miller asserted his belief in "one living and true God," composed of "three persons." He understood the "Triune God" to contain "three persons."15 This is the true Trinitarian understanding of the doctrine, and since Miller wrote in 1822, and Bates objected to Trinitarianism, on the grounds presented, in 1827, it is a justifiable assumption that the conception which Trinitarians have today of the relations between members of the Deity, was the conception current when Bates wrote. Undoubtedly there were in vogue in the nineteenth century, as there are today, extreme forms of Trinitarianism, against which the early Adventists seriously reacted. Evidence for this will be presented as we proceed. But this is not an adequate explanation of the extreme anti-Trinitarianism of the early Adventists. Bates assumes that, pushed to its logical conclusion, Trinitarianism becomes Monarchianism, I which the Father is the Son and vice-versa. Then he objects to this on the ground that one person cannot possible be another. But he is not objecting to Trinitarianism, as he imagined. He is objecting to his interpretation of what Trinitarians teach. He is objecting to Monarchianism.

Bates wrote his autobiography in 1868. There is no indication in his narration of the events of his past life that his view had changed in the interval since 1827. It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that, after becoming a Seventh-day Adventist, Bates retained his anti-Trinitarian belief.


Prior to becoming an Adventist, James White was an ordained minister of the Christian Connection.16 He wrote his "Life Incidents" in 1868 for the Review and Herald.17 He says, :At the age of fifteen I was baptized and untied with the Christian Church."18 Later he was ordained and carried on revival work for this organization. In 1842 he heard William Miller preach and became an enthusiastic adherent of the Second Advent faith.19

Since White came out of the Christian Connection, one would expect to discover that he was, at least early in his career, opposed to Trinitarianism. But the evidence is not readily forthcoming, and what is available is inconclusive. It is true that James White was editor of the Signs of the Times in 1879. On May 22 of that year there appeared an article strongly opposing Trinitarianism written by A. J. Dennis.20 It would be easy to conclude that White concurred with the position taken in the article, since he was editor and there is no indication that he, as editor, might have held another view. But James White was a Christian gentleman, and possibly he published a view with which he could not agree simply as a gesture of Christian courtesy. He did not agree with certain workers on some other issues, but remained silent, even when their views were published, simply for the sake of avoiding a serious doctrinal cleavage.

On the other hand, there are certain indications which point in the direction of the view that James White was not a Trinitarian. In 1877 he wrote a tract entitled Christ in the Old Testament in which the following statement appears:

The work of emancipating, instructing and leading the Hebrews was given to the One who is called an angel. Ex. 13:21; 14:19, 24; 23:20-23; 32:34; Num. 20:16; Isa. 63:9. And this angel Paul calls "that spiritual Rock that followed them," and he affirms, "That Rock was Christ." 1 Cor. 10:4.

The eternal Father is never called an angel in the Scriptures, while what angels have done is frequently ascribed to the Lord, as they are his messengers and agents to accomplish his work.21

We have here a suggested distinction between "the eternal Father" and Christ. Christ is called an angel in Scripture, the Father is not. Christ is referred to as "the Lord" to distinguish Him from "the eternal Father." It would be possible to read between the lines and assume that James white did not regard Christ, the Lord, as eternal in the same sense as the Father; that, in fact, Christ was to some extent inferior in rank to the Father, because he is called an angel and the Father is not. But, in the absence of corroborating evidence, this would not be a fair conclusion.

There is in the James White Memorial Library at Andrews University a thesis which states that A. T. Robinson declared in an interview that James White was not a Trinitatian.22 Robinson had been acquainted with the Whites. This type of evidence based on the testimony of an old man is hardly to be regarded as entirely satisfactory. But it is nonetheless an additional finger pointing in the same direction as other fragmentary pieces of evidence. At all events, White did not allow his view, whatever it was, to come to the fore, at a time when a major Trinitarian controversy might have split the infant Adventist Church.


1James White, Sketches of the Christian Life and Public Labors of William Miller (Battle Creek, Mich.: Steam Press of the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1875), p. 59.

2Joshua V. Himes, "Christian Connection," Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, ed. T. Newton Brown (Boston: Shattuck & Co., 1835), 362.

3Ibid., pp. 362, 363.

4Ibid., p. 363




8Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1957), p. 47.

9Joseph Bates, The Autobiography of Elder Joseph Bates (Battle Creek, Mich.: Steam Press of the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1868).

10Ibid., p. 204.



13Ibid., p. 205

14L. E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1954), IV, 954.

15James White, Sketches of the Christian Life and Public Labors of William Miller (Battle Creek, Mich.: Steam Press of the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1875), p. 59.

16James White, "Life Incidents," The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, XXXI (February 18, 1868), 147. (Hereafter referred to as Review and Herald).

17Ibid., p. 146.

18Ibid. The Christian Church referred to is generally understood to have been the Christian Connection. See L.E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1954), IV 1057.

19James White, "Life Incidents," Review and Herald, XXXI (February 18, 1868), 147.

20A. J. Dennis, "One God," The Signs of the Times, V (May 22, 1879), 162.

21James White, Christ in the Old Testament (Oakland, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1877), p. 11.

22C. M. Taylor, "The Personality of the Holy Spirit," (unpublished Master’s dissertation, James White Memorial Library, Andrews University, 1953), pp. 7, 8.

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