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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   XI


On October 14, 1939, W. W. Prescott preached a sermon in the Takoma Park Church on the subject, "The Coming One." He took the position that Jehovah of the Old Testament is Jesus of the New Testament. He urged that the three persons of the Godhead cannot be regarded as separate personalities in the same sense as human beings, because there is a mysterious union between them which is dissoluble.1


J. S. Washburn took exception to the Prescott sermon, and produced twenty typed pages in answer to the Trinitarian position. The first section consists of a polemical attempt to refute Trinitarianism, particularly as represented by Prescott’s sermon, and the second section comprises a personal attack on Prescott. Washburn exposes himself throughout as a testy supporter of a dying cause. He describes the doctrine of the Trinity as "a cruel heathen monstrosity removing Jesus from the true position of Divine Saviour and Mediator."2 Trinitarianism is of pagan origin and it is characteristic of Roman theology. In fact it is "Satan’s crowning masterpiece of apostate counterfeit Christianity."3


Washburn’s depiction of Christ was identical to that of the older Adventist writers. Christ was brought into being, begotten of the Father. The Father is Jehovah and the Son Adoni.4 He accuses Prescott of teaching that the Father and the Son are one person. His illustrations of the absurdity of that view are practically identical to those used by the early Adventist writers. The unity between the Father and Christ Washburn sees as entirely analogous to that between Christ and His disciples. If Prescott is correct then, says Washburn, the Father was born of the Virgin, and He hung on the cross and died. Obviously the basis of his anxiety is the old problem of J. H. Waggoner and others that the divine in Christ died, but he says the Trinitarian teaching renders this impossible. Then the sacrifice was not an adequate atonement.5


Washburn attempts to explain the Ellen G. White statement, "Deity did not sink and die, that would have been impossible."6 He quotes Job 34:12, 14, 15 and Ps. 36:9 as evidence that when a man dies God simply takes back the life He has previously given. Just so:

When Christ was begotten of the Father, He received the life of God, His Father. When Jesus died on the cross, he said, "Father into thy hands I commend my spirit," (or life), and the life of God was given back to the Father, and for a time, three days and nights, that life was with the Father from whence it had come. In the resurrection that life of God is restored to the one who died. Ps. 104:30. But between his death on Friday afternoon, till Sunday morning, the Son of God was dead.7

Thus Washburn reduces the life of Christ, the pre-existent, divine Christ, to the level of human existence, derived from the Father in the same sense, re-called at death and re-bestowed in the resurrection, in the same sense. Then Washburn proceeds to quote a Spirit of Prophecy statement which contradicts the argument he has just presented. The statement he quotes is as follows:

When he closed his eyes in death upon the cross, the soul of Jesus did not go at once to Heaven…. All that comprised the life and intelligence of Jesus remained with his body in the sepulchre. And when he came forth it was as a whole being. He did not have to summon his spirit from heaven.8

Washburn confidently affirmed, "This squarely contradicts the teaching of Elder Prescott."9 But what he had overlooked was that it squarely contradicted J. S. Washburn. He had just announced that "the life of God was given back to the Father…"  But the Ellen G. White statement, which he quoted as supporting evidence, has the life of Jesus remaining in the sepulchre.

The remainder of Washburn’s attack on Trinitarianism in general, and Prescott’s sermon in particular, consists of a piling up of reasons as to why the Godhead could not be one person. As were the early Adventist Arians, Washburn is opposing Monarchianism. Thus he exposes his misunderstanding of what Trinitarians teach. He concludes, "The whole Trinity doctrine is utterly foreign to all the Bible and the teachings of the Spirit of Prophecy. Revelation gives not the slightest hint of it."10

So dies the fading splendour of Seventh-day Adventist anti-Trinitarianism!


1J. S. Washburn, "The Trinity." (Paper filed in Office of the Dean, Andrews University, Theological Seminary. [n.p., n.d.]), p. 2. (Mimeographed)

2Ibid., p. 1.


4Ibid., p.2.

5Ibid., p.5.

6Ellen G. White, Letter 280, 1904, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, ed. Francis D. Nichol, V (1956), 1113.

7Washburn, op. cit., p. 6.

8Ellen G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. III (Battle Creek, Mich.: Steam Press of the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1878), pp. 203, 204.

9Washburn, loc. cit.

10Ibid., p. 8.

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