What Seventh-day Adventists Believe about the Trinity
Seventh-day Adventists believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, the 3-in-1 Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let’s learn more about:
- The doctrine of the Trinity
- Why this belief is so complex
- History of the Trinitarian belief
- The term “Trinity” and its relation to the Bible
- How the meaning of the word “one” helps in understanding the Trinity
- Scriptural explanations of the Trinity
- The Trinity in early Adventism
This belief is listed as an official statement on the denomination’s website:
“There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three coeternal Persons.
God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation.
God, who is love, is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation”
(Gen. 1:26; Deut. 6:4; Isa. 6:8; Matt. 28:19; John 3:16 2 Cor. 1:21, 22; 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2.)
So what exactly is this teaching within Christianity? How did it develop? What does it mean? Why is it important? How do Adventists relate to this doctrine, and why is it so foundational to their faith and practice?
What is the Doctrine of the Trinity?
Together they are the Godhead, or the Triune God. The names of each of them represent the role in which they sustain humanity.
The Father is the creator and overseer of all.
The Son is the mediator, the one who relates to humanity and reconciles them with the Father.
The Holy Spirit is the agent by which the Godhead makes things happen. He is the guide, the influence, the power, the energy.
Highly influential author and theologian Wayne Grudem wrote this:
“God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God” (Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, p. 226).
That one sentence captures the essence of the doctrine of the Trinity. And it is also how Adventists today view the nature of God.
Yes, it is a Complex Idea, and This is Why
Of course, it is not easy for us to fully understand the concept of the Trinity, the three-part nature of one God.
But why shouldn’t it be hard? After all, we are dealing with the very nature of the Creator of the Universe (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-3).
There isn’t an aspect of the created world that isn’t filled with mysteries we as humans can fully comprehend.
Water itself has properties that scientists can’t explain to this day.
Bird migration—how birds know where to fly to and when to fly, has baffled humans.
And to this day, scientists and philosophers still can’t agree on a single definition of the word “life.”
The best we can do is through metaphors and analogies, which aren’t perfect but can point us in the right direction.
That’s why you may hear of the Trinity being likened to the 3 parts of an egg (shell, white, yolk), or the 3 forms of matter (solid, liquid, gas), or like a ray of light that forms 3 different colors when refracted by a prism.
History of the Trinitarian Teaching
Details about the development of the Trinity in early Christianity have been blurred by time.
However, we do know that as the early church spread out over the world, many false doctrines began to enter into it. In fact, even while the New Testament writers were still alive, false doctrines—especially about the nature of Jesus—had already arisen.
The apostle John, one of the writers of the New Testament, had warned specifically about such an error:
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2 John 2:7, NKJV).
One influential error, known as the Arian heresy (named after a church leader in Egypt called Arius), taught that Jesus was not fully and eternally God. Instead, Jesus was a created being who came after the Father and was inferior to Him.
It was partially in response to this error that within the next few centuries, the doctrine of the Trinity became firmly established in the Christian Church.
And it remains so today, even if not universally accepted by all professing Christians.
Does the Term “Trinity” Appear in the Bible?
The word itself does not, but the concept and explanation comes up in several places.
For instance, one of the key themes in Scripture is that of Jesus taking upon Himself humanity and appearing in human flesh. The apostle Paul expressed it as such:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, NKJV).
It’s hard to think of a more crucial doctrine than this one, which is known as the “Incarnation,” the idea of someone or something becoming flesh. Yet not one time is the term ”incarnation” ever used in the Bible, even though it represents what Adventists would argue is one of the most important truths in Scripture.
It’s the same with the term “trinity.” Though the term doesn’t appear in the Bible, the teaching certainly does. It is simply a term we use to describe the unity of the 3 persons of the Godhead.
Does the Trinity Contradict the Old Testament Teaching about God Being One?
While there is the declaration that “the Lord is one,” this is not presented in opposition to the Triune God.
One of the most well-known texts in the Old Testament is found in Deuteronomy 6:4:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (NKJV).
The context of this verse is crucial.
It was given at a time when the Jewish nation was immersed in a world of paganism and all their false gods and idols. Over and over, the Lord told His people that He alone was the only God:
“Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the LORD Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:35, 39, NKJV).
“I, even I, am the LORD, And besides Me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11; 45:5; 46:9, NKJv).
In other words, He alone was the one true God. There were no others.
This text is not about the specific nature of God, such as His plurality, as much as it was pointing out that He alone was the real and only true God—that all the pagan gods were not even real.
Christians who believe in the Trinity still believe God is one, although composed of three fully divine persons, and this belief is fully supported by the whole Bible.
Can the Meaning of the Word “One” Help in Understanding the Trinity?
Even a quick history lesson on this word can help explain the complexity of the Trinity.
The word for “one” (echad) in Deuteronomy 6:4, can actually refer to a plurality, instead of a single whole.
For instance, Exodus 24:3 reads:
“So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the Lord has said we will do’” (NKJV).
They answered with “one,” echad, voice. Yet how many thousands responded? It was one voice, yes, but clearly made up of many parts.
Genesis 2:24 reads that “ a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one [echad] flesh” (NKJV).
And finally, Genesis 1:5, in the American Standard Version, reads:
“And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”
This first day was composed of two parts, an evening and a morning. And, yet—it was one, echad, day.
Thus, Deuteronomy 6:4, with its use of echad, does not in any way contradict the teaching of the Trinity. Instead it is meant to express unity.
Passages of Scripture that Reference or Describe the Trinity
Trinity in the Old Testament
Adventists and other Christians see verification for the Trinity in the first chapter of the Old Testament in Genesis. This depicted God creating our world, the life on it, and especially human beings.
Here is how the creation of humanity was first expressed:
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26, NKJV).
Some have argued that the “Us” and “Our” are referring to God and angels working together to create humanity. But nothing in the Bible ever teaches that angels can also be creators since they themselves are created beings.
Instead, this text is about God, talking about Himself, but clearly in plural terms. In fact, the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is a plural noun.
A few other times in the Old Testament, God says “us” and seems to be having a discussion within the Godhead:
- “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil…” (Genesis 3:22, NKJV)
- “Come, let us go down and confuse their language…” (Genesis 11:7, NKJV)
- “‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’” (Isaiah 6:8, NKJV)
And in Isaiah 48:16, 17, it talks about God the Father sending forth His Son, “with His Spirit.” This is just one of the many times the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the Old Testament, in close connection to or as an extension of God1.
The teaching in the Old Testament of the plural nature of the One God helps set the groundwork for the New Testament teaching on the Trinity.
The Trinity in the New Testament
The New Testament is where the doctrine of the Trinity is most openly taught.
This teaching appears in the Gospels (the four accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) as well as in the letters written by Paul and others. It’s also taught in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation.
In the New Testament, besides the obvious status of God the Father as fully divine, the full divinity of Jesus Christ is taught as well.
In fact, the common word for “God” in the New Testament is the Greek word Theos. This is the foundation of the word “theology,” which is the study of God. The word Theos (in various grammatical forms) is used over and over to refer to God the Father, who is God (1 Peter 1:2; James 2: 23; Hebrews 12:23).
Yet, this same word for God, Theos, is used about half a dozen times by Paul, John, and Peter, to refer directly to Jesus Himself (John 20:28, Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1).
For example, John wrote:
“In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1-3, NKJV).
All the Greek terms for “God” there come from Theos.
Adventists see profound importance in the phrase that these verses begin with: “In the beginning.” It’s reflecting back to Genesis 1:1.
He also calls Jesus “the Word,” then says that the Word “was with God, and the Word was God.” A clear representation of both the Father and Jesus as God.
What’s more, Jesus’ own words affirm the oneness He has with the Father and the Holy Spirit:
- Jesus said “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30, NKJV)
- He told His followers about the many ways He and the Father are united (John 5:19; 6:38; 14:6-14; 16:28), and that no one can even approach the Father except through Him.
- Jesus mentioned the Holy Spirit being as the Helper or Comforter that would guide humanity after He ascended back into heaven (John 14:16-18).
Jesus’ sameness with Father and the Holy Spirit is what made His death on the Cross open the path of redemption toward humanity.
The One who died on the cross was the eternal God Himself. The Creator loved us so much that He was willing to die in our stead. He did this so that as sinners, we could still be redeemed to the promise of eternal life.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV).
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15, NKJV).
And even before Jesus officially began His public ministry, He was baptized by John the Baptist. After this happened, all three members of the Godhead are active:
“Heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16, 17, NKJV).
As for the Holy Spirit, many texts in the New Testament make it clear that the Holy Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son, as opposed to being an impersonal force.
For instance, when Jesus sent His followers out to spread the Gospel to the world, He said:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .” (Matthew 28:19, NKJV).
They were to baptize in the name of the Father, who is God. They were to baptize in the name of the Son, who is God. And they were also to baptize in the name of the Holy Spirit, who is God.
In the book of Acts, two church members, Ananias and his wife Sapphira, lied about money they claimed to have donated to the church. What happened when they were caught in their lie?
“But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God’” (Acts 5:3-4, NKJV).
Peter asks Ananias why he had lied to the Holy Spirit. Peter then says: “You have not lied to men but to God.”
Early Adventists and the Trinity
Seventh-day Adventists are officially a Trinitarian Church.
The early Adventist church was formed by a diverse group of Christians. These Christians came from different denominations and eventually became united on some specific teachings, which became the core of the Advent Movement.
Some early Adventists believed in the Trinity, while others didn’t.
However, by the late 1890s and into the 20th century, the Adventist church was moving toward a full Trinitarian position. By 1931, the Fundamental Beliefs of Adventists included a Trinitarian statement.
In 1980, the church voted that the belief of the Trinity be a fundamental Adventist teaching.
In the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe: An exposition of the fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it is expressed unequivocally that all three Persons of the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are each one fully and eternally God (p. 23-77).
This belief deals with the very nature and character of the God whom Adventists love and serve. It reveals what God is like and how He works. It reinforces the roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the plan of salvation.
And mostly importantly, it gives us the hope that God doesn’t just love us from afar, He is present with us through the Holy Spirit, and though we are all sinners, we are drawn back to Him through His Son Jesus.
1(Genesis 1:2; 6:3; Exodus 31:3; Numbers 11:25, 26, 29; 24:2; Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14; 1 Samuel 10:10; 11:6, 13-23; 19:23; 2 Samuel 23:2; 1 Kings 18:12; 22:24; 2 Kings 2:16; 1 Chronicles 12:18; 28:12; 2 Chronicles 15:1; 18:23; 20:14, 20; Nehemiah 9:20, 30; Psalm 51:11; 104:30; 106:33 Isaiah 63:10
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