SDA Fundamental Belief Number 2 (Trinity)

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, He 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.)

With the exception of  some re-arranging of the Bible texts, the only change made to this fundamental in San Antonio was replacing “He” at the beginning of the fourth sentence with “God, who is love,”. There seem to be two motives for the change, inclusive language (“God” vs. “He”) and adding a reference to love in the statement on the Trinity.

After reading this statement and some of the texts connected with it one of the faculty playfully asked, “If I invited the Trinity to dinner, how many plates should I place at the table?” One response was, “Just one, we are monotheists.” Another suggested, “Three plates, but one chair, and serve three different types of foods.” The struggle to answer a simple question illustrates the difficulty people have had for centuries in articulating the Christian picture of the godhead. Christians are monotheists, which means they don’t believe in three gods (or Gods), yet there is more to be said than simply that God is one (Deut 6:4). If one approaches the issues psychologically one could say that God is one in mind, yet there is a sense of three “personalities” (an analogy that I don’t think the Bible itself actually makes). If God is absolutely one, was Jesus praying to Himself while He was on earth? There is clearly also a social side to the gospel, members of the Trinity (also not a biblical term) can somehow converse among themselves and direct one another.

The bottom line with the Trinity doctrine is that these huge themes can only be approached through metaphor. Everything that we can possibly say about God is inadequate in the ultimate sense. For me, the most important thing about God as three is that it makes eternal love possible. If God were one in the absolute sense, God could be many things but love would not be one of them. Love would not be part of God’s essence. Love, in that case, would be possible only after creation. It would be a quality that responds to the creation. So it is interesting that Muslims, who have an absolute view of monotheism, have ninety-nine names for God, but don’t usually think of God in terms of love. If God is Trinity, then love is essential to God’s nature from the beginning. It is not something that happens only on account of creation, unless the created  universe itself was as eternal as God. John 1:1 clearly states otherwise—at the moment when “all things” were created, the Logos and “God” were already there. As parents know, a couple’s love can be quite self-centered on their own, but with the arrival of a baby, true love becomes complete.

Is the Trinity present in the Old Testament or does only the New Testament point toward it (the word “trinity” and the explicit concept in the FB above are not directly expressed even in the NT)? In our discussion, Genesis 18 was suggested first; the three visitors that came to Abraham just before the destruction of Sodom. Genesis 1 also speaks of God in plural, “Let us make human beings in our image.” And even the very Hebrew word for God (Elohim) is plural. Also in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, when it says that “God is one,” the Hebrew word for “one” (echad) expresses a compound unity. So while it would be inappropriate to say that the Trinity is clearly expressed in the OT, the OT data leaves the way open for the idea.

Is there a Loma Linda perspective on this doctrine? How we understand Trinity is very important to our concept of God. The Bible is clear that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor 5:18-19). The cross of Christ does not occur to placate a wrathful Father or change His mind regarding the human race. God Himself provided the atonement because He loves us (John 3:16-17). All three members of the Trinity are involved in the work of reconciliation, in these matters, as Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). If you have seen Jesus you have seen the Father (John 14:9). So there is no wedge between the Father and the Son. If the Father had come down and lived on this earth as Jesus did, He would have looked and behaved no differently. There is perfect unity in the godhead.

4 thoughts on “SDA Fundamental Belief Number 2 (Trinity)

  1. Clifford Owusu-Gyamfi

    Elder Paulien, why are we struggling when the apostle Paul had such a clear knowledge about God and Jesus Christ?

    “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

    “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6).

    There is no phrase in the Bible like “God the Son”. Jesus is “God” by nature because He’s the Son of God. The personality God is of course one and that is the Father! If we keep it this way, though not simple, we have a lot of Bible text to argue this point.

    Again, using love to make an argument to the Trinity poses problems. If I understood your explanation of love, you rather enumerated on “self-seeking” love. This kind of love yearns, and seeks to possess. It also waits in return. I’m talking about “eros”. Agape is self-denial love. It can be dormant even if there is no one around because it seeks no pleasure in return. God can be one and still be love because creation was done in love. And when the apostle said God is love, he explained how this love was manifested in 1 John 4: 9. I think it doesn’t pose any problem if Jesus is ontologically a part of God in another personality.

  2. Patrick Stevenson

    Dr Paulen, I came across this blog while searching for anything you might have online regarding I John 4:7. I would appreciate it if you could direct me to where I might find good scholarship on this text.

    Grace and peace.


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