at issue logo At Issue Index   Trinity Index   Table of Contents   Previous   Next

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

by Erwin Roy Gane





Writing in the Review and Herald in 1854, J. M. Stephenson exposed himself as a militant Arian. In an article entitled "the atonement" Stephenson forcefully presented his anti-Trinitarian arguments:

The idea of the Father and Son supposes priority of the existence of the one, and the subsequent existence of the other. To say that the Son is as old as the Father, is a palpable contradiction of terms. It is a natural impossibility for the Father to be as young as the Son, or the Son to be as old as the Father.1

He proceeded to point out that the terms "Father" and "Son" would not have been used by the Bible writers if they had wished "to convey the idea of the co-etaneous existence, and eternity of the Father and Son…."2 Stephenson quoted a Trinitarian named Fuller who agreed that the Father must have existed prior to the Son. The Son is the "first born" said Stephenson, in the sense that He had an origin at a point prior to all other forms of life. Christ was begotten. Therefore "he must have had a beginning." God, he wrote, is the "only supreme ruler." It would be impossible to have two Supreme Rulers at the same time. Only the Father is "supremely, or absolutely, good."3 Only the Father is, in the absolute sense, immortal. Only the Father is self-existent. The Son is therefore dependent on the Father for the Father gave "the Son to have life in himself."4

Stephenson went so far as to declare that Christ was a created being:

Col. 1:15. "the first born of every creature." Creature signifies creation; hence to be the first born of every creature, (creation) he must be a create being; and as such, his life and immortality must depend upon the Father’s will just as much as angels, or redeemed man….5


Writing in March of the same year [1854], J. B. Frisbie identifies the "Sabbath God" and the "Sunday God."6 The Sabbath God is a Spirit, but also a personal Being possessing body and parts. The Sunday God is identified by reference to a Catholic Catechism and a Methodist work. The Catholic work, as quoted by Frisbie, maintains that God has no body. There is but one God, but comprising three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is said not to be tri-theism.

The Methodist work quoted by Frisbie also states that the one true God does not have body or parts. God is one, but in the unity which is God there are said to be three persons each of the same substance, each possessing the same power and eternity of existence.

Frisbie’s prime purpose in this article is evidently to present God as a personal being possessing bodily parts. But in opposing Trinitarian views, which deny that God possesses parts, in this sense, he also opposes the Trinitarian position in toto, concluding this section of his article by saying, "these ideas well accord with those heathen philosophers."7


Writing in 1859, D. W. Hull presented in the Review and Herald a series of two articles discussing the "bible doctrine of divinity." He sees the Trinitarian position as subversive of the doctrine of the atonement.8 It is clear that he is, to some extent, reacting to certain extreme Trinitarian positions, but in the process he attempts to shatter the whole structure of that doctrine. Hull writes:

The doctrine which we propose to examine, was established by the Council of Nice [sic], A.D. 325, and ever since that period, persons not believing this particular tenet, have been denounced by popes and priests, as dangerous heretics. It was for disbelief in this doctrine, that the Arians were anathematized in A.D. 513.

As we can trace this doctrine not farther back than the origin of the "man of sin" and as we find this dogma at that time established rather by force, than otherwise, we claim the right to investigate the matter, and ascertain the bearing of Scripture on this subject.9

Hull is at pains to point out that "we" believe in the divinity of Christ but adds that "we don’t believe, as the m. e. church discipline teaches, that Christ is the very and eternal God; at the same time, very man; that the human part was the Son, and the divine part was the Father."10

He then proceeds to repudiate what he calls "The orthodox view of God" that he is "‘without body, parts, passions, centre, circumference, or locality.’" It is not difficult to understand his opposition to this extreme view. He adds, "it certainly appears that such a God as this, must be entirely devoid of an existence."11

Hull then begins to investigate all the important passages claimed by Trinitarians in support of their view. In answer to the Trinitarians’ use of Isaiah 9:6 he declares that Christ is here called mighty, but not almighty. The word he believes is used "in a limited sense." Christ is the everlasting Father only in the sense that He is to live everlastingly, certainly not in the Trinitarian sense.

Hull emphasizes the argument which Joseph Bates used in 1827. If the divine part of Jesus was the Father, if it was the Father who was manifested in the flesh, then God and Christ are one person. Consistently throughout the article, Hull confuses the correct Trinitarian position with Monarchianism. He argues that Trinitarians say there is one God and that Christ is God in the same sense as the Father. Therefore Christ is the Father. They are one and the same person. But he sees this to be logically impossible and Scripturally unsound. Father and Son are one just as are a man and his wife. They are united in interest and purpose. Christ, he says, is not the only and eternal God. He is not as great as the Father, nor did He pretend to be so. His power was delegated. The objection is illustrated as follows:

What would the reader think of a man who moved from the State of Ohio to Iowa with his family and after enjoying their company for a season talk of going back to Ohio where he could see his family? If you cannot allow inconsistencies I men, how can you accuse the Saviour of leaving the world to go to the Father, and at the same time assert that the Saviour was Jehovah himself?12

Hull gives further reasons for rejecting what he calls the Trinitarian position. If Father and Son are one person then the world was three days without a God, for the Bible says that He was "put to death in the flesh." Christ cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Trinitarians say that the Godhead had left him. Then Christ must have been alive after the Godhead had departed from Him, and the sacrifice was only a human sacrifice.13 But how could a human sacrifice atone for our sins? Thus he objects to the view that Christ’s soul did not die. It was necessary for every part of Christ to die that human sin might be adequately atoned for. He quotes 2 Peter 3:18 and adds, "There is no chance of escape here. Christ’s soul and every part that dwelt in his flesh was put to death and buried in sheol, or hades."14 The Trinitarian teaching that Christ’s body descended to the grave but his soul or divinity, or whatever it might be termed, ascended to paradise, is rejected as unscriptural and destructive of the possibility of the atonement.

The three salient reasons which Hull gives for rejecting Trinitarianism are that the doctrine teaches that God lacks bodily parts and emotions, that it identifies Father and Son as one and the same person, and that, because it teaches that the divine in Christ did not die, it readers the sacrifice a human sacrifice, and therefore, an inadequate atonement for the sins of man. It is quite evident that to some extent Hull was opposing an extreme form of Trinitarianism, but this is not a sufficient explanation of his anti-Trinitarianism. He relegates the decisions of Nicea to the category of false doctrine. But he misinterprets the position of the Nicene fathers. They were at pains to avoid the accusation of Monarchianism. Hull accuses them of teaching this. Like Joseph Bates, on this particular point, he is opposing not the Trinitarian view itself but his own misconception of what that view is.


1J. M. Stephenson, "The Atonement," Review and Herald, VI (November 14, 1854), 128.


3Ibid., p. 131.


5Ibid., p. 133.

6J. B. Frisbie, "The Seventh day-Sabbath [sic] Not Abolished," Review and Herald, V (March 7, 1854), 50.


8D. W. Hull, "Bible Doctrine of Divinity," Review and Herald (November 10, 1859), 93.




12Ibid., 194

13D. W. Hull, "Bible Doctrine of the Divinity of Christ," Review and Herald, XIV (November 17, 1859), 201.


At Issue Index   Trinity Index   Table of Contents   Previous   Next