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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   V



James White was editor of the Review and Herald in 1861. In November of that year, he published J. N. Loughborough’s answer to the question, "what serious objection is there to the doctrine of the trinity?" Loughborough replied:

There are many objections which we might urge, but on account of our limited space we shall reduce them to the following: 1. It is contrary to common sense. 2. It is contrary to Scripture. 3. It’s origin is Pagan and fabulous.1

In enlarging on the first point, Loughborough objected to the idea that three are one, and one, three. He opposes the use of the terms "the Triune God," and "the three-in-one God."2 "if Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are each God, it would be three Gods." Under the second point he urges that in Scripture Father and Son are spoken of as two distinct persons. As indicated by John chapter 17, the oneness between them is the same as that between Christian believers. To believe the doctrine of the Trinity, to Loughborough, would involve acceptance of the idea that "God sent himself onto the world, died to reconcile the world to himself, raised himself from the dead, ascended to himself in heaven…."3 Here again we are confronted with anti-Trinitarianism based on opposition to what Trinitarians did not teach, that the Father was the Son and vice versa.

That Loughborough was opposing Trinitarianism, not merely as it appeared in his day, but in its earliest manifestation in the Christian Church, is evidenced by his amplification of his third point. The doctrine of the Trinity came into the church, so he argues, about the same time as image worship and Sunday observance. It is simply a renovation of the pagan Persian religion. It was introduced into the Christian Church about 325 A. D. and was an established doctrine by 681 A. D. Spain adopted it in 589, Africa in 534 and England in 596.4

J. N. Loughborough also declared himself on the subject of the Holy Spirit. Writing in 1898 he described the Spirit of God as "God’s representative—the power by which he works, the agency by which all things are upheld."5 He says that the Spirit of God is recognized in the Bible as the Lord’s presence. The Spirit of God, as spoken of in respect to creation, he describes as, "the creative energy of God." Throughout this 1898 article, Loughborough emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is God’s power. He expresses no conception of the Spirit as a personality, and consistently uses the pronoun "it" in reference to the Third Person of the Godhead.


E. Goodrich, writing for the Review in 1862 expressed his horror at the sentiment that there is no Spirit.6 He sees not much of worth left in Bible religion when it is divested of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. He describes the Spirit as "the living and acting agent" by which God’s work for man is accomplished."7 There is no indication as to whether Goodrich regarded this "agent" as a personally and a member of the Deity, or simply as an influence. This much is certain: that an anti-Trinitarian possessing the convictions of Uriah Smith, could heartily subscribe to what Goodrich wrote, as indicated by Smith’s own discussion of the importance of the Holy Spirit in 1859.8


S. B. Whitney became a Seventh-day Adventist some short time before 1862. His change of faith was seriously regretted by the Congregational Church at Malone, and two representatives of that congregation, A. Parmalee and J. B. Henck wrote to him with the intention of winning him back to his old faith.

The Review and Herald published the letter to Whitney and his reply. The relevant sections for the purpose of this discussion, are quoted here. Parmalee and Henck wrote:

A few words now in regard to the doctrine which you have recently embraced as substitutes for those you once adopted, but have now put away.

1. The doctrine of the Trinity you set aside as not a scripture doctrine. Our creed on this subject is, that there are three persons in one God, not three persons in one person, and that Christians are required to baptize in the name of these three, as constituting the only true God revealed on the scriptures. The doctrine of the Trinity is a doctrine of faith, not of comprehension, nor could we solve the mysteries of this infinite, wonderful Being, if he were presented to us as existing in one person only.9

The writers proceed to depreciate Whitney’s conduct in "launching out" as had the Unitarians and Socinians in an effort to gain knowledge beyond what is revealed in Scripture.

In his reply, S. B. Whitney fails to answer the Congregational creed that, "there are three persons in one God."10 Evidently Parmalee and Henck quoted this in their letter in answer to a previous accusation that their teaching involved the notion of "three persons in one person."11 They are certainly objecting to this latter conception. Whitney ignores the issues involved on this point and proceeds to prove that God has a form:

In Ex. xxxiii, 21-23, we read that God told Moses that he would cover him with his hand while he passed by, but that he should see his back parts. Will the Dr. charge God with deception or admit that he has a form? Will he receive Christ’s testimony when he speaks of his Father’s "shape"? Luke v, 37. Will he admit that Christ went to heaven bodily? Acts i, 9.12

There can be no doubt that Whitney was opposing the conception that God lacks bodily parts and form. The point is not even referred to in the Congregational letter. The Trinitarian position of three persons in one God is in no way answered in Whitney’s reply. It appears reasonable to conclude:

1. that new converts to the Adventist Church at this stage were introduced to anti-Trinitarianism. At least this was so in Whitney’s case. This was certainly the impression received by the Congregationalists of Malone; and no effort was made in Whitney’s reply or elsewhere on the Review and Herald to correct this impression. On the contrary, the reply contained renewed opposition to the Trinitarian position. Of course, it is dangerous to generalize on this point. There may have been many converts who retained their Trinitarianism, but the present writer has not been able to discover evidence for this.

2. S. B. Whitney’s reply evidences the reaction to certain extreme statements in the Trinitarian creed, which we have noticed in other early Seventh-day Adventist writers, but,

3. There can be no doubt that the Trinitarians at this time did not teach , as certain Seventh-day Adventist writers interpreted them as teaching, that Christ and God are one person. The Congregational creed, as referred to by Parmalee and Henck, clearly stated that "there are three persons in one God, not three persons in one person."13


1J. N. Loughborough, "Questions for Bro. Loughborough," Review and Herald, XVIII (November 5, 1861), 184.


3J. N. Loughborough, "Questions for Bro. Loughborough," Review and Herald, XVIII (November 5, 1861), 184.


5J. N. Loughborough, "The Spirit of God, " Review and Herald, LXXV (September 20, 1898), 600.

6E. Goodrich, "No Spirit," Review and Herald, XIX (January 28, 1862), 68.


8cf. ante., p. 18.

9S. B. Whitney, "Both Sides," Review and Herald, XIX (March 4, 1862), 109.



12Ibid., 110.

13Ibid., 109.

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