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I want to ask my Seventh-Day Adventist friends about their view of the Trinity. I was listening this morning to one of your preachers. He said that EGW never refers to the Trinity but is adamant there are three Persons in the Godhead. To me, it sounded as if the speaker was not presenting the traditional Trinity doctrine.

  • The Eusebians (the so-called Arians) said that the three Persons are three Centers of consciousness (three distinct Minds or Wills).
  • In contrast, in the Trinity doctrine, there is only one Being and only one Center of consciousness. Therefore, in the traditional Trinity doctrine, as RPC Hanson indicates, the term Person is inappropriate:

“In the place of this old but inadequate Trinitarian tradition the champions of the Nicene faith … developed a doctrine of God as a Trinity, as one substance or ousia who existed as three hypostases, three distinct realities or entities (I refrain from using the misleading word' Person'), three ways of being or modes of existing as God.” (Hanson)

I think I read somewhere that the SDA statement of beliefs says, "God is one and three." My question is: In what respect is He three and in what respect is He one? Specifically, is He three or one in terms of Consciousness (Mind, Will).

  • The Eusebians said 3.
  • Alexander and Athanasius said that the Logos is the Father's ONLY Logos and Wisdom. In other words, they taught one single Consciousness.
  • Modern Social Trinitarianism also argues for 3.

The reason I prefer to refer to Consciousness is that all of the other terms are potentially understood differently by different people:

  • The Eusebians used ‘hypostasis’ for a distinct existing Reality, and therefore for a distinct existing Centre of Consciousness, but the traditional Trinity doctrine teaches one single Being, and therefore, one single Consciousness, in three hypostases.
  • As indicated, in the traditional trinity doctrine, ‘Person’ is often used mistakenly for the hypostases.
  • Ousia (substance, being) can potentially be a fairly clear term, for one Being implies one Consciousness, but I still prefer 'Consciousness' for clarity.

So, I would really like to understand whether the SDA teaches one or three Consciousness.

Response to CuriousDannii

Below, CuriousDannii comments:

What does a "center" of consciousness mean? In the traditional Trinitarian understanding, God has only one faculty of mind, which could probably be said to act in three centers of thinking. Indeed, distinguishing between "faculty" and "center" could be a quite helpful way of explaining the traditional doctrine of God, but it's probably not the way you are using "center" here.

I would like to respond as follows:

Ayres describes “three ‘centres of consciousness’” as “three potentially separable agents … the contents of whose ‘minds’ were distinct.” (LA, 296) Hanson refers to the modern theory of social trinitarianism as “the too popular modem theory that God is three persons in our modern sense, i.e. three centres of consciousness.” (RH, 737)

One ‘Centre of consciousness’ is one ‘Faculty of mind’; one Mind and one Will. I also like the term ‘Faculty of mind’ but the one used by scholars is ‘Centre of consciousness’.

With three “centres of consciousness” we have the potential of disagreement between them, and the unity between the Father, Son, and Spirit is one of will; not of substance. For example, when Jesus said, "Your will and not mine.” For me, that is evidence of two centres of consciousness being one in will.

The benefit of this term is that the term “Person” is understood differently by different people. The Three in the traditional Trinity doctrine are sometimes mistakenly referred to as “Persons” but the Three are not “Persons” in the ordinary sense of that word. In the traditional Trinity doctrine, ‘God’ has only one faculty of mind and, therefore, is only one single “centre of consciousness.”

People hide behind confusing terms like soldiers attacking from hiding a smokescreen. I am trying to use alternative and non-traditional terms that are generally well understood.

Response to Bluephlame

Below, in a comment, Bluephlame refers me to an atsjats document.

Atsjats docs are always worth reading. Interestingly, this document admits that the SDA pioneers were not Trinitarians. Unfortunately, this article suffers from the assumption that there is only one Trinity doctrine. In fact, there are many different Trinity doctrines. See, for example, Dale Tuggy’s podcasts. Non-Trinitarians such as Samuel Clarke also refer to the Trinity, but then they mean a group of Three. That is why I always refer to the "traditional" Trinity doctrine to distinguish it from other types of Trinity doctrines.

I find the quote from Fundamental Beliefs confusing. It talks about three "Persons," which implies three ‘Minds’, but then uses the singular pronoun "He" to refer to “God;” a unity of three co-eternal Persons. This implies one single ‘Mind’. So, my question remains, do you believe in three Minds or one Mind? When I put this question to an SDA professor, he said I must just believe. But how can I believe that which I do not understand? To whom do I pray?

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    What does a "center" of consciousness mean? In the traditional Trinitarian understanding, God has only one faculty of mind, which could probably be said to act in three centers of thinking. Indeed, distinguishing between "faculty" and "center" could be a quite helpful way of explaining the traditional doctrine of God, but it's probably not the way you are using "center" here.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 15 at 11:20
  • @curiousdannii I responded by expanding the question.
    – Andries
    Jan 16 at 10:41
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    Is Ayres just dismissing Chalcedon there? That would be so weird. Or is he saying that at one stage (prior to Chalcedon?) the explanation of Luke 22:42 was that it indicated two(+?) faculties of mind in the Trinity? I don't actually doubt that was the case. It's just the quote you've presented makes it seem like the dominant answer rather than one which was rejected.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 16 at 12:17
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    Oh wait, you're not quoting Ayres there are you, that's your own thoughts? Is it a quote from your own site? It would be helpful to add a link. Or if you wrote it newly for this Q&A, please don't format it as a quote.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 16 at 12:20
  • @curiousdannii Ayres is not dismissing the Trinity doctrine. I only extracted from his book what he means by 'Centre of Consciousness'. The fuller quote is: “It is true that pro-Nicenes do intend to place restrictions on the way that we imagine the unity of God. Most clearly, if we were to imagine God as three potentially separable agents or three ‘centres of consciousness’ the contents of whose ‘minds’ were distinct, pro-Nicenes would see us as drawing inappropriate analogies between God and created realities and in serious heresy.” (LA, 296-7)
    – Andries
    Jan 16 at 14:05

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The Adventist fundamental belief in the Trinity uses the words 'coeternal persons' to describe the Trinity. As Such believes there are Three distinctive consciousness that operate as a single God.

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.)

What does this mean practically

When it comes to the trinity, I think the last question you added to the questions is the key one, "To whom do I pray." How do we practically relate to the trinity, regardless of the words we use to attempt to describe this phenomenon?

Matthew 6:9 Is Jesus the Son, instructing us to pray to the Father (The Lord's Prayer)

1 Timothy 2:5 Is Paul telling us that Jesus is a mediator for us.

Romans 8:26-27 describes the Holy Spirit interceding when we do not have the words to pray.

Matthew 28:19 Teaches us to baptise in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

All of these give us practical ways that we ought to interact with God. Father, son and Spirit.

Versions of Trinity doctrine

The use of the word Trinity is a tool to create language to help describe what we are reading in the bible. Similarly, you are wrestling with the idea of persons, will, and conscience. I am unsure how helpful this is as it potentially implies meaning that is not intended (Does God have a conscience?)

I haven't heard the distinctions you talked about and am unsure about how to process that when Jesus interacts with the Father through prayer and other places where the members of the Trinity seems to act in separate wills and and in distinct times.

What tradition do you follow that encompasses the belief you have described?

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  • Thanks. I am not asking for a justification of the SDA view; simply what your view is. I find what you say slightly contradictory. How can there be three distinct Consciousnesses in one God? Are you saying that one God is able to disagree with Himself? Could you possibly refer to question to the nearest SDA college or university?
    – Andries
    Jan 15 at 5:56
  • @andres Perhaps it is contradictory, but that is part of trying to understand the Trinity. Usually, discussions around the trinity are centred around words and concepts we (humanity) use to try and understand it. In this case, consciences or persons. To your question, consider Luke 22:42, Where Jesus pleads with God to do something different. There is evidence that Jesus 'disagreed' with what God wanted. yet still did not allow his will to dictate his actions but rather the will of the father.
    – Bluephlame
    Jan 16 at 19:54
  • Also, in regards to your question about institutional publications they are usually easy to find. Here is one of the understanding of trinity over the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. atsjats.org/12pfandl-trinitysda.pdf
    – Bluephlame
    Jan 16 at 19:55
  • I added a response in the question itself.
    – Andries
    Jan 17 at 6:19

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