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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





It was during James White’s term as editor of The Signs of the Times that A. J. Dennis in 1879 published his article entitled "one god." He wrote:

What a contradiction of terms is found in the language of a trinitarian creed: "In unity of this Godhead are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." There are many things that are mysterious written in the word of God, but we may safely presume the Lord never calls upon us to believe impossibilities. But creeds often do.1

Dennis regarded belief in two self-existent beings each equal in power, as postulating the existence of two Gods. But, he says, the Bible teaches the existence of only one. He saw no difficulty in ascribing eternity to both Father and Son if "eternity" refers to "duration without end." In this sense Enoch and Elijah and all the redeemed saints have eternity of existence.2


J. M. Hopkins writing for the Review and Herald in 1883 attached great importance to the work of the Holy Spirit, but proceeded to define its existence in the following term, "it is that almighty, holy influence operating in the universe of god, by means of which worlds have been formed, physical laws established and maintained;…"3

God, he believed, has communicated to his people by means of the Spirit, the saints are to be raised by the same power, and the living changed into an incorruptible form ready for translation, by the same Spirit. But the Spirit remains an "influence" as different from a person, an equal member in the Godhead.


Two men wrote for the Review and Herald In 1883, leaving the question as to the nature of the Holy Spirit an open one. Neither was prepared to dogmatize and both placed emphasis on the importance of the work of the Holy Spirit. Swift wrote, "Just what the spirit is, is a mooted question among theologians, and we may not hope to give it a positive answer, but we may learn something of its nature, and the part it acts in human salvation."4 He proceeds to speak of the work of the Spirit and consistently uses the personal pronoun "he" in reference to the Spirit. There is no real indication in the article as to whether Swift believed the Holy Spirit an influence or a person, but the tenor of the article is certainly in the direction of the latter conception.

G. C. Tenny in his article entitled "The Comforter," asserts that whatever the existence of the Holy Spirit is material or immaterial, whether it is "a personal being, or a representative influence, it exists, clothed with an all-seeing and omnipresent nature, and claims our most sacred respect."5 Here again the writer leaves the question open as to the personality of the Holy Spirit. Later in the century, in 1896, Tenny wrote an answer to a question sent in by a correspondent. The question was as follows:

Please explain 1 John 5:8. (1) Is the word "spirit" synonymous with the Holy Ghost of verse 7? (2) What is the Holy Ghost? How do we receive it, through God, or through angels? (3) Is the Comforter of John 16:7,8 the Holy Ghost? If so, how can it be alluded to as "him" and "he"?—C.W.W.6

Tenny disposed of the first question by saying that the last part of verse 7 and the first part of verse 8 is an interpolation which ought not to be in the Scriptures. He adds:

It is not in the Revised Version, and it is well understood by Biblical scholars that these words were inserted by some one who desired to render more prominent an erroneous idea of the dogma of the Trinity.7

Of course modern scholarship would not disagree with Tenny’s rejection of the 1 John 5:7 and 8 interpolation. But it is clear from his statement that he is not Trinitarian. The idea, which the passage would prove, were it genuine, is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one. This idea Tenny regards as "erroneous."

In spite of this, Tenny does not rule out the possibility that the Holy Spirit is a person. In answer to the second question he wrote, "we cannot tell. we cannot describe the Holy Spirit." He regards the Scriptural evidence of such a nature that he is "led to believe he is something more than an emanation from the mind of god." Tenny continues:

He is included in the apostolic benedictions, and is spoken of by our Lord as acting in an independent and personal capacity as teacher, guide, and comforter. He is an object of veneration, and is a heavenly intelligence, everywhere present, and always present. But as limited beings, we cannot understand the problems which the contemplation of the Deity presents to our minds.8

Here we are confronted with a writer who obviously has not accepted the doctrine of the Trinity, but whose doubts in regard to the personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit seem to be gradually resolving in the direction of the Trinitarian belief. He is not yet thoroughly sure, but is at least prepared to concede that "He," the Spirit of God , "is something more than an emanation from the mind of God."


The Pacific Press published J. H. Waggoner’s book, The Atonement, in 1884. As has been shown Waggoner was by no means the first Seventh-day Adventist writer who regarded the Trinitarian view of Christ as subversive of the atonement, but his work underlined and for a time perpetuated this position. He wrote, "surely, we say right, that the doctrine of a trinity degrades the atonement, by bringing this sacrifice, the blood of our purchase, down to the standard of socinianism."9

The point which Waggoner emphasizes so often is that in Christ there were not two distinct natures during the incarnation, one, the human, which died, and the other, the Divine which, when the human died, ascended again to the Father. This view would render the sacrifice a human one, and therefore an inadequate one for human redemption.

Waggoner regards it as impossible for the self-existent God to die. He says, "here is a plain declaration that ‘the ever-living, self-existent god’ died for sinners, which we cannot believe…."10 The Father was the self-existent God, Christ was not. Therefore, Christ could die for sinners. Both His human and divine attributes died on the Cross. This position led Waggoner to conclude that Christ was subordinate possessing a derived existence. Christ was pre-existent but not self-existent and therefore God in a subordinate sense. Waggoner wrote:

The first of the above quotations say the Word was God, and also the Word was with God. Now it needs no proof—indeed it is self-evident that the Word as God, was not the God whom he was with. And as there is but "one God," the term must be used in reference to the Word in a subordinate sense, which is explained by Paul’s calling the same pre-existent person the Son of God.11

It was this pre-existent, subordinate Son of God who died on Calvary and provided the possibility of atonement. It is clear, therefore, that Waggoner’s repudiation of Trinitarianism was in view of its apparent contradiction of his understanding of the atonement.


1A. J. Dennis, "One God," The Signs of the Times, V (May 22, 1879), 162.


3J. M. Hopkins, "Grieve Not The Spirit," Review and Herald, LX (July 3, 1883), 417.

4J. E. Swift, "Our Companion," Review and Herald, LX (July 3, 1883), 421.

5G. C. Tenny, "The Comforter," Review and Herald, LX (October 30, 1883), 673.

6G. C. Tenny, "To Correspondents," Review and Herald, LXXIII (June 9, 1896), 362.



9J. H. Waggoner, The Atonement (Oakland, Cal.: Pacific Press, 1884), p. 174.

10Ibid., p.176.

11Ibid., p. 153.

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