The Bible teaches that there is one God manifest in three distinct persons: God the Father; God the Son, that is, Jesus; and God the Holy Spirit, who, like the Father and like the Son, is also a person. Not three Gods, but one; not one person but three.
Some, more recently, are experimenting with a different teaching. These say that God the Father has always existed, but that the person, Jesus, has not always existed. Jesus, they say, had a beginning. They say that there was a time when He was not. Some are saying that the Holy Spirit is only an impersonal power, or, that He is not a person distinct from Jesus. Ideas are swirling. These mistaken teachings are not a problem for most. But we have friends. What will we say if our friends become interested in these ideas?
Today, we review the Bible basis for the Seventh-day Adventist understanding that there is one God manifest in three persons; we look at what Ellen White said; we consider the Arian idea that God the Father did not have a beginning but that Jesus did have a beginning; and finally, we look at the differences between our Bible-based view and the Catholic view based on pagan philosophy. We conclude by listing the benefits of the eternity of Jesus.
One other thought: Some have claimed this understanding of one God manifest in three persons is Roman Catholic. But Near the end I'm going to show you how actually our position is the most Protestant. Ours is based on Scripture. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic position actually is built upon the blend of Scripture plus tradition, and actually the view that says Jesus was not but then was, is founded upon pieces more compatiable with the Catholic idea of blending Scripture with tradition.
THREE IN ONE
The evidences for one God manifest in three persons are worthy of recitation. This teaching has been called the Godhead or the Trinity. Some have claimed this understanding was Catholic. We believe it because the Bible itself is the acid test. It is the final authority, and the Bible clearly teaches one God manifest in three persons.
God Spoken of in the Plural
In Genesis one God speaks of Himself in the plural: "Let Us [plural] make man in Our [plural] image, according to Our [plural] likeness" (Genesis 1:26). But in verse 27, "God created man in His own [singular] image, in the image of God [singular] He [singular] created him; male and female He [singular] created them." God is a multiple, a plurality. Within that plurality there are distinct persons. In Isaiah 6:8-10, God asks, "Whom shall I [singular] send, and who will go for us [plural]?"
Three Spoken of Together
In Mark 1:9-11 Jesus is baptized. Jesus goes into the water, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father is heard speaking from heaven. The three persons of the Godhead demonstrate their presence.
In Matthew 28:19 the disciples are sent to baptize in the name [singular] of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
In 2 Corinthians 13:14, Paul closes His letter saying, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all." Each of the three persons of the Godhead is mentioned. In 1 Peter 1:2 believers are greeted with reference to the same three:
"According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ. . ." In John 14:26, the three persons of the Godhead are mentioned together again: "But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My [Jesus'] name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you."
Jesus Condemned for Blasphemy
In Mark 14:61-64 Jesus is asked whether He is the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, and replies "I Am," at which point Jesus is condemned for blasphemy for claiming to be God. ("I Am" is heard several times in the Bible as God's name. For example, God described Himself as the self-existent one in Exodus 3:14).
Jesus called God
In 2 Peter 1:1 Jesus is called God and Savior. In Hebrews 1:8 Jesus is called God. In John 20:28 Thomas calls Jesus "My Lord and My God."
God does not Change
Does God change? The Bible says, No (Hebrews 13:8; 1:12; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17; Numbers 23:19). Then what the Scriptures say about God must be always true. If part of what is said of God is that He is one term of a relation, then the other term must also be eternal. And if God the Father is eternally Father, then He must always be in relation to a Son, for a person is not a father unless he is so in relation to a son. Therefore the Son must also be eternal. The Father and the Son are eternal and have existed as such from eternity.
ELLEN WHITE ON THE ETERNITY OF JESUS
Does Ellen White suggest that Jesus is a lesser God? No; it is just the opposite:
The Desire of Ages, p. 530:
"In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived."
If Christ has life in Himself that is original, then that life has no other source; it is original in Him. It is unborrowed; it could not be from a different being or a different person; His life is His own. Jesus is one person of the one God. His life is not derived from the Father or from the Holy Spirit. It is His own life as God.
Ellen White uses the same language in a Signs of the Times article:
"'In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.' It is not physical life that is here specified, but immortality, the life which is exclusively the property of God. The Word, who was with God, and who was God, had this life. . . The life of Christ was unborrowed. No one can take this life from Him. . . In Him was life, original, unborrowed, underived. This life is not inherent in man (Signs of the Times, April 8, 1897).
Again, Jesus has in Himself that life which is exclusively the property of God.
Jesus is identified as the self-existent Son of God:
"'Before Abraham was, I am.' Christ is the pre-existent, self-existent Son of God. The message He gave to Moses to give to the children of Israel was, 'Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.'. . .In speaking of His pre-existence, Christ carries the mind back through dateless ages. He assures us that there never was a time when He was not in close fellowship with the eternal God." (Signs of the Times, August 29, 1900).
Fellowship requires multiple persons. And there never was a time when Jesus did not have this fellowship.
Jesus, while one with God, is a distinct person:
"Christ is one with the Father, but Christ and God are two distinct personages" (Review and Herald, June 1, 1905).
"The unity that exists between Christ and His disciples does not destroy the personality of either. They are one in purpose, in mind, in character, but not in person. It is thus that God and Christ are one" (Ministry of Healing, p. 422).
Ellen White is very clear that Jesus has always been God in the most definite sense. Let none forget that she was a Methodist until her teen years and never repudiated this belief about God which she had accepted before her baptism. It is the height of absurdity to parse her language in search of nuances in an attempt to make her say what some wish she had said. She spoke clearly and was a direct communicator. She so clear and definite about this that those who are adopting an Arian position are setting themselves up eventually to abandon belief in the inspiration of her writings.
Let's turn now and consider more closely the Arian error. What follows addresses a variety of Arian claims.
Many Gods and Many Lords
Some think that they find support for their Arian belief in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 where Paul writes "there is no God but one" and seems ot put Jesus in a different category:
Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
Paul is addressing belief in idols versus belief in the true God. Idols are intrinsically false. An idol is a false god and a false lord. It is a lie by definition, a self-contradiction. Opposite that is the truth that there is only one God.
While men may regard these idols as gods and lords, the Christian does not. He recognizes the Father as a divine person and the Son Jesus as a divine person. The very existence of humans is contingent upon the positive maintenance of our existence by Divinity.
And yet the passage actually puts God the Father and God the Son in parallel:
|one God, The Father||from whom are all things||and we exist for Him|
|one Lord Jesus Christ||by whom are all things||and we exist through Him|
God is one and the work of God is one. Without Jesus' redemptive work, we would not exist through Him. Without the promise of a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15) and the redeeming life given for us and accepted by the Father (Acts 2:24, 32-36; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28), we would have no hope (1 Corinthians 15:13-19). Throughout the Bible God's oneness is kept in tension with God's pluralness--the revealed fact of three persons in one God.
In 1 Corinthians eight Paul groups together the false "many gods and many lords." Then he places in parallel to this the true "God" (the Father) and true "Lord" (Jesus). Humans have our being for God and we have being through God. Otherwise, we gain existence from a not-quite-divine source.
While in 1 Corinthians 8:6 we exist for God the Father, in Colossians 1:16, Paul, speaking explicitly of Jesus (1:13, 16), says "all things have been created through Him and for Him." We have existence because of God, and that includes because of Jesus. Then Paul's pairing Jesus and the Father in 1 Corinthians 8 is logical. The divine persons are distinct from each other in personhood, yet identical terminology and even descriptive words are used to describe them.
In Paul, "Lord" [kurios] and "God" [theos] appear together in the same verse some 70 times. Most often Paul uses the two in pairs referring to two different persons of the Godhead. In Acts four the disciples address God the Father as Lord (vs. 24, 29) while referring also to Jesus (vv. 27, 30). In Acts 17:24 "God" and "Lord" are used interchangeably.
The word for "master" is also applied to both the Father and to Jesus. In Acts 4:24 of the Father, "O Lord [despotns], you have made the heavens and earth and sea..."(4:30 makes clear that these words are addressed to the Father). And in Jude 4 "only Master [despotns] and Lord [kurios] Jesus Christ."
The phrase "the Lord thy God" is used many times in the New Testament (e.g. Matthew 4:7, 10; 22:37, Mark 12:30; Luke 1:16; 4:8, 12; 10:27). Lord and God are frequently used together. In Luke we have "The Lord God" in 1:32 and 68 and in 1 Peter 3:15. John uses combinations of "Lord God" in Revelation 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 18:8; 19:1, 6; 21:22. Thomas' declaration, when he saw Jesus' nail marks, and in John 20:28 called Jesus "My Lord and my God!" shows that Thomas puts the two terms together. In verse 29 Jesus fully accepts Thomas' worship of Himself as God and commends Thomas' belief.
Another important reference is the clear oneness statement in John 1:1-3, 14:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. . . And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus was with God. Always He was with God. In the beginning He was God. There is no indication that Jesus did not exist together with God from the beginning. To the contrary, it is affirmed that they have been together always.
Paul uses "Lord" and "God" interchangeably in Hebrews 8:10. In Revelation 4:11 God the Father is called "Our Lord and our God." In 11:17 God the Father is "our Lord" and Jesus "His Christ." One cannot limit one of these terms to just one of the divine persons.
Only Begotten--Jesus had a Beginning?
The phrase "only begotten" (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18) is said to indicate that Jesus was not before he was; that He did not exist and then He did exist. The new Arians today vehemently reject the idea that this means he was "created." The word "begotten" appears nine times in the New Testament. Half of these references, interestingly, are not to Jesus.
In Luke 7:12 the MONOGENES is a dead man, an only son. Jesus resurrects him and gives him back to his mother. In Luke 8:42 a MONOGENES, a man's only daughter, is dying. Jesus heals her. In Luke 9:38 a man brings to Jesus his MONOGENES, his only son, who has been thrown into water and fire while possessed. Most interesting is the reference in Hebrews 11:17 to Abraham offering Isaac, his "only begotten," his MONOGENES, by faith. In each case the term refers to a unique individual beloved by others.
The remaining five uses are all by John and refer to Jesus (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). All point to the unique personal relationship between Jesus and the Father, showing that God gave His most precious Son in order that humans might be saved. But none of John's uses require that there was a time when the divine person Jesus had a beginning. Only begotten does not mean that Jesus had a beginning.
Jesus Coming Forth from God
In John 8:42 and 16:28 Jesus states that He, Jesus, came forth from God. Some want this to mean that Jesus originally was part of God. They theorize that, at some point in time before the creation of the world, there was a derivation, a splitting of the one person of the Father into two persons, Father and Son.
Supposedly then, Jesus as a person was derived from the person of the Father. But if that were true, then His life was not His own, but actually was life borrowed or given from the Father. Since supposedly He did not exist, and then, supposedly He did exist, He had no life of His own. But then He was not self-existent.
This would be contradictory to the other inspired statements indicating a distinct and eternal existence of Jesus. The context of these statements has Jesus simply saying that He came from being present in the immediate presence of God the Father, to be incarnate as a human. He was sent here on a mission. (While God is everywhere present, He has a throne location where He can be worshiped by finite creatures like men and angels.)
He Gave Him to Have Life in Himself
Another argument by those who want us to view Jesus with the Arian understanding stems from John 5:26. "For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself." At first glance, this sounds as though Jesus' life is derived from the life of God the Father.
But the point of the passage (John 5:18-30) is the equality of Jesus with the Father. Jesus is operating in harmony with, in solidarity with, the Father. Look at verse 21. See how the emphasis is on Jesus having the same qualities as the Father: "For as the father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will." He has life in Himself and can give life to others by resurrecting them. John is pointing out that Jesus' Deity (having life in Himself) is like the Father's Deity (having life in Himself).
In the divine plan to save humanity, the Father designed that while Jesus came as a human, Jesus is still God, and still lays legitimate claim to having life in Himself. As a human He possesses this life and is under the authority of the Father.
Almighty God Refers to the Father Only?
Some have claimed that the phrase "Almighty God" always refers to the Father and never to Jesus. Is this so?
Revelation 1:12-16 clearly is describing Jesus. And in 1:17-18 He says of Himself, "I am the First and the Last, and the Living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forever more, and I have the keys of death and of hades."
Now consider Jesus' speaking in Revelation 22:12-13: "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." Verse 16 confirms that it is Jesus who is speaking. Jesus is Alpha and Omega. Reference to alpha and omega occurs three times in the Bible: Revelation 1:8; 21:6; and 22:13. In 21:6 the Alpha and Omega is also the One who sits on the throne. But in Revelation 1:8 the Alpha and the Omega is "the Lord God" and "the Almighty."
And so, while "the Almighty" is used in Scripture to refer to God the Father, it is also used to refer to Jesus! The claim that God the Father is "Almighty God" and Jesus is merely "Mighty God" fails. Jesus is not lesser God; He is not "beta" God, the "Beta and Omega," the almost-beginning and the end, but Jesus is the "Alpha and Omega," the actual beginning and the end.
The Only True God
The remaining major text favored by Arians is John 17:3: "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." The phrase here ("only true God") is unique in Scripture. But as we have already seen, Jesus is explicitly called God in several places. This warns us against giving supreme interpretive authority to one unique phrase. There are unique phrases in the Bible which are used only with reference to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit, but this does not make them somehow more goddish than God the Father.
In the fifth verse of the chapter Jesus asks the Father to glorify Jesus with Himself with the glory He had before the world was. This is no problem for the Arians because they say only that Jesus was derived from the Father before anything else was created. Still, the Arian claim is not only speculative, but contradicts the record of John chapter one where Jesus is said always to have existed. The Ellen White statements also flatly contradict the theory, for Jesus has life in Himself original, unborrowed, and underived.
In John 17:22 John writes, "The glory which You have given Me I have given them, that they may be one, just as We are one." If the Father giving His glory to Jesus means that the Father upgrades Him from creature to god, or "creates" Him a God, the same meaning used 19 verses later would logically be applied to the disciples, increasing the "God-count" by a dozen. "Glory" here does not mean "divinity" but "character." Jesus imparted to His disciples an understanding of the divine character while He was with them. He gave them His glory, but he did not create a pantheon of 11 more gods.
Hopefully you've heard that there is a difference between the Protestant, or Adventist, view of the Trinity or Godhead, and the Catholic view. But perhaps you've never heard this difference explained.
The Adventist view is based on Scripture. The Bible teaches there is one God manifest in three distinct persons. And so, we believe that. But that is NOT why the Catholic believes in the Trinity.
Greek philosophical presuppositions made themselves felt in the early years of apostasy that came not long after the New Testament period. Ideas from outside the Bible blurred understandings of truth. Consider three giant ideas that in due course led to the Catholic teaching on the Godhead:
1. The Material is Evil
The Greeks believed that pure thought, pure ideal, was good, but that all things material, created, physical, were bad, even evil.
In contrast, the Bible teaches that the created is good. When God finished creation, Genesis 1:31 tells us that His evaluation of everything that He had made was that it was "very good." The viewpoint that all things material are evil prepares the way for the "immortal soul" theory.
2. Contact with God only Possible Through the Immortal Soul
While the Greeks had a whole list of male and female gods who were always caught up in their very human-like passionate dramas, that idea was so repulsive that the Greek philosophers developed the belief that God was absolute perfection and completely unmoved by the material world. Aristotle said that if God even thought about us flawed, mortal beings, that it would be a stain upon his perfection. Aristotle's God had no feelings for us. His God cannot enter history; He's way over there and we are way over here.
But, while God cannot cross over to us, they thought, each person has in himself a divine spark, an immortal soul, and the immortal soul can reach up and touch God briefly at the highest points in our spiritual experience.
Of course, we all know that the Bible teaches that God alone has immortality; humans are mortal; souls can die (Ecclessiastes 9:5, 6; Genesis 2:7; Ezekiel 18; 1 Timothy 6:15). And to read the Bible is to understand that God has strong emotional feelings toward us. He died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:6).
He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6).
Jesus wept (John 11:38). God is not some pure, dispassionate, digital intellect; God is love.
3. God Exists Outside of Time
The third Greek philosophical problem is God's timelessness. The Greeks thought that God experiences time different than us (which turns out to be true), and that it follows that He cannot enter into history (which is false). Every Greek philospher knew that divine "intervention" in human history was impossible. And so, the factual testimony of the the Bible must all be allegorized away.
But God does not exist outside of time, but He exists in endless time. He can and does intervene in history. He intervened by creating, speaking through prophets, executing miraculous interventions like the Red Sea crossing, maintained a visible interactive presence trough His sanctuary, and in the ultimate case came into His own creation when Jesus became human and died for us on the cross.
Adventist Bible View Opposite Roman Catholic Philosophical View
On all three of these pagan philosophical points, the Roman Catholic Church builds its view of the Godhead--not on Scripture. Fascinatingly, out of all Christian groups, only Seventh-day Adventist have the Bible pieces on these three points which enable us to come to the question for a biblical rather than philosophical standpoint.
Sabbath reminds us that the creation is good. The fact that the Bible teaches that death is like an unconscious sleep and that humans are not immortal sets us straight on the second item. And the sanctuary teaching which God led us to through the 2300 day/year prophecy helps us to see Him active in history.
God cleared away unbiblical viewpoints so His remnant people could have a Bible-based understanding rather than a philosophical one! Indeed, those Adventists who today are resurrecting an Arian kind of teaching are setting us up to miss the very opportunities God has given us.
CONCLUSION: THE ETERNITY OF JESUS
- Jesus is not a created being as we are. He did not descend a short distance to be human; He descended from infinity. Nor is Jesus merely a human who became so spiritual that He was promoted to godness. His example for us is not that of a striving creature who ultimately becomes God. If so, that would leave us with a saved-on-the-basis-of-our-works plan. God Himself took humanity in order to be able to die for us. God did not make a mere creature and then kill it to save other creatures; He entered creatureness to be able to die for us, and to live victoriously in our damaged kind of humanity.
- Jesus is not a derived being. There was never a time when He was not. He is everlasting, from eternity He was with God in the beginning. There was never a time when He did not exist or did not have fellowship with the Father. He is the Alpha not the Beta, the Beginning not the middle.
- We will never equal Jesus; we will never become God. Jesus, remains forever and always not only fully human, but fully divine. In His strength you and I will attain to full humanity, but we will never attain to full divinity.
- Turning Jesus into even a deified creature changes the plan of salvation and also the Great Controversy War. If Jesus is mere creature, then a part of Satan's complaint is legitimate--Jesus and Satan are fundamentally the same--creaturely. Then the Father's elevation of Jesus above all becomes arbitrary.
- The mental gymnastics required to bend the Scriptures to make Jesus a being who was not and then was--opens the way for rationalism. It makes human reason supreme over Scripture. It would lead to the repudiation of the writings of Ellen White and even the Bible itself. Inspired writers all submit their finite human rationality to infinite divine wisdom. So must we. We must never encourage the speculative use of human reason to attempt to solve matters left in tension with one another by the inspired writers themselves.
- Knowledge puffs up, and false knowledge most of all. We must beware the gnostic path. It would lead us to think we are something because we have special knowledge which others do not have. We have the solution to the mystery of one God in three persons. We do not have the solution. We have the Scriptures God has given us. And they are sufficient for what we need to live godly in this world.
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