Reflections on The Godhead Controversy (part 1)

Not long ago, I was at a gathering of Seventh-day Adventists at an evening meal when a woman sprung a question on me unexpectedly:

“What would you say to someone who does not believe that the Holy Spirit is a distinct being of the Godhead?”

That question eventually led to a personal odyssey of study and dialogue regarding anti-trinitarian and semi-Arian viewpoints.

I quickly discovered that there has been a revival among a certain class of Seventh-day Adventists--of a belief which teaches that there was a time in the distant past when God the Father was alone, that sometime in the distant past Jesus was “begotten” or “brought forth” from the Father (semi-Arianism) and as a result became the Son of God.  They also believe that the Holy Spirit is either the spirit of Jesus Christ or the spirit of the Father and the Son (depending on who you talk to).  They deny that the Holy Spirit is a distinct being or person (anti-trinitarianism).  Furthermore, they claim that they reached their conclusions from taking the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy “as it reads” and that the current Adventist view requires ignoring plain passages of Inspiration.  As we will, see they are actually selective in which passages receive a so-called plain reading and those that do not.

While it is true that certain Seventh-day Adventist pioneers had anti-trinitarian and Arian or semi-Arian views, the difference with the current class of individuals is that they believe that their view will lead to the true experience of righteousness by faith and the outpouring of the latter rain.  At the same time, they equate the modern Adventist view on the Trinity and Godhead as the omega of apostasy.  Other claims include: Because the Father is the one true God, elevating Jesus and the Holy Spirit onto the same sphere causes one to violate the Second Commandment which says “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”

It can be frustrating for God’s people to have deal with false tests but Inspiration actually describes the blessing of heresy that comes into the church:

God will arouse His people; if other means fail, heresies will come in among them, which will sift them, separating the chaff from the wheat. The Lord calls upon all who believe His word to awake out of sleep. Precious light has come, appropriate for this time. It is Bible truth, showing the perils that are right upon us. This light should lead us to a diligent study of the Scriptures and a most critical examination of the positions which we hold. God would have all the bearings and positions of truth thoroughly and perseveringly searched, with prayer and fasting.  Believers are not to rest in suppositions and ill-defined ideas of what constitutes truth. Their faith must be firmly founded upon the word of God so that when the testing time shall come and they are brought before councils to answer for their faith they may be able to give a reason for the hope that is in them, with meekness and fear. (5T 707.3)

We have been in a lukewarm state, so God allows heresy such as the anti-trinitarian movement to come in to arouse God’s people to study and to learn about the true nature of the Godhead on a deeper level.  The greatest heresy that Adventism will face from within is the omega of apostasy.

Ellen White actually has some very clear statements about the nature of the omega of apostasy:

In the book Living Temple there is presented the alpha of deadly heresies. The omega will follow, and will be received by those who are not willing to heed the warning God has given (1SM 200.1).
Few can discern the result of entertaining the sophistries advocated by some at this time. But the Lord has lifted the curtain, and has shown me the result that would follow. The spiritualistic theories regarding the personality of God, followed to their logical conclusion, sweep away the whole Christian economy (1SM 203).

Interestingly, one of the key elements that will be found in the omega of apostasy is “spiritualistic theories regarding the personality of God.”  While I am not ready to proclaim the current anti-trinitarian movement as the exclusive fulfillment of the omega of apostasy, it is interesting that they make claims in denying the existence of the Holy Spirit as a separate and distinct being.  Just as Dr. Kellogg claimed that God was in the trees and grass and denied His personhood in Heaven, the anti-trinitarian movement denies the eternal existence of Jesus Christ and denies that the Holy Spirit is a distinct being from the Son.  Certainly an attack on the nature of the Godhead should arouse all Bible-believing Seventh-day Adventists to a deeper study of God’s word and the Spirit of Prophecy, and it should lead all of us to a deeper walk with God.

The Truth About Jesus

There seems to be no dispute about the everlasting existence of the Father.  The dispute involves the existence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  What does the Bible say about Jesus and His role in the Godhead?

Notice in Hebrews 1:8 that the Father addresses Jesus as God “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever. A sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.”  Notice that the Father does not call Jesus the Son here (even though He is) but He calls Him God!

Furthermore, Jesus says of Himself, “Before Abraham was I AM” (John 8:58).  Ellen White accentuates the eternal nature of Christ in this following statement:

God always has been. He is the great I AM. The psalmist declares, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” He is the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity. “I am the Lord, I change not,” He declares. With Him there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. He is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” He is infinite and omnipresent. No words of ours can describe His greatness and majesty. {MM 92.4}

Inspiration is very clear. “God always has been.”  Amazingly one of the verses she uses to prove this point is Hebrews 13:8 - “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”  Those who claim Jesus proceeded from the Father some time in the distant past are ignoring this very clear statement from Ellen White.  Jesus is God.  God always has been.  Thus, Jesus always has been.

Another clear passage in Scripture which shows that Jesus has no beginning and no ending is Hebrews 7:3 in which Melchizidek as high priest is compared to Jesus.  In this passage it says “having neither beginning of days nor end of life but made like unto the Son of God abideth a priest continually.”  Melchizidek is a type of Christ’s high priestly ministry because there is no record of his beginning.  Jesus, in His divinity, has no beginning. He always has been.

One of the key passages that semi-Arians use to prove that Jesus proceeded from the Father is found in Micah 5:2:

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of Thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

The focus is placed on the phrase “goings forth.”  This phrase is from the Hebrew word “mowtsa’ah.  It is claimed that the only place this phrase is found in Scripture is in 2 Kings 10:27 where it is translated as “draught house” or “toilet house.”  They claim this draught house is a smaller house set apart from a larger house, just as Jesus came forth from the Father.

However, this word “mowtsa’ah” is the feminine form of this word and the masculine form is “mowtsa” which is used 27 times in the Old Testament.  In two places, it is used to described a king or his representative going about His business (2 Samuel 3:25 - representative of king David doing his business; Hosea 6:3 - the Lord going forth as the morning in preparation to pour out the early and latter rain).  Thus, it makes far more sense to see the “goings forth” of Micah 5:2 as Christ the King going about His business as the King of the Universe than to compare Christ to a toilet house set apart from a larger house.

Another key passage for semi-Arians to prove that Jesus was begotten from the Father in the distant past is Proverbs 8.  While Proverbs 8 primarily is describing wisdom personified, Ellen White does use this Scripture passage to apply the subject to Christ starting in Proverbs 8:22. Verse 23 states “I was set up from everlasting from the beginning, or ever the earth was.”  Verse 24 says “I was brought forth.”  Verse 25 says “before the hills was I brought forth.”  The idea is aggressively promoted that these passages provide conclusive proof for a beginning point in time for Christ.

However, Ellen White quotes this passage to use decisive language about the eternal existence of Christ:

“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 unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” The prophet Micah writes of Him, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of Thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” {ST August 29, 1900, par. 13}.

Through Solomon Christ declared:

“The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth.... When He gave to the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment; when He appointed the foundations of the earth; then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him” {ST August 29, 1900, par. 14}.
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.  He to whose voice the Jews were then listening had been with God as one brought up with Him {ST August 29, 1900, par. 15}.

It is fascinating that the very Scriptural passage that semi-Arians use to prove that Jesus was “brought forth” from the Father, Ellen White uses to say that “Christ is the pre-existent, self-existent Son of God.”  If He is self-existent, that immediately proves that He exists of His own and did not come out of the Father.

After quoting much of verses 22-30, she then says “there never was a time when He was not in close fellowship with the eternal God.”  There are no qualifiers to this statement.  She makes it very clear that there never has been a time that the Son and the Father have not been together.  This begs the question: who is not reading Inspiration as it reads?

One last very clear statement on the divine nature of Christ:

In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived. “He that hath the Son hath life.” 1 John 5:12. The divinity of Christ is the believer’s assurance of eternal life (DA 530).

While semi-Arians will argue that this is the life of the Father in Christ that is original, unborrowed, and underived, it is obvious that this is not the intent of Ellen White in this passage.  She makes no qualifiers to this statement.  She was not sending a subliminal message for us to figure out later that somehow she did not really mean what she says in the above passage.

It is alarming to consider that we must ignore the clear reading of Inspiration to accept views that require a twisting of the plain statements of Inspiration in order to receive the outpouring of the latter rain.  This is simply a false test designed to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect.  The Jesus Christ of Scripture is the I AM of Scripture.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He is the God and Creator of the universe.  There has never been a time that He has not been in close fellowship with the Father. He always has been.  That is why He is God.

In part two, we will examine the nature of the Holy Spirit and what the Bible and the Spirit Prophecy say about the Third Person of the Godhead.


Norman McNulty, MD, is a board-certified neurologist practicing in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. Prior to starting his neurology practice, he served for two years as a missionary at the Adventist hospital in Trinidad.  Norman was trained at Loma Linda University and  he enjoys studying and speaking about prophecy in his free time.  He has also been involved in several young adult ministries in the United States.  He is married to Joelle, and they have three daughters, Saralyn, Anneke, and Madeline (born early this morning).