Were Seventh-day Adventist Pioneers Arians or semi-Arians?

The Seventh-day Adventist’s own historians characterize the church’s founding pioneers as primarily “non-trinitarians.” In addition, they have also characterized our pioneers as either Arians or Semi-Arians. Furthermore, the historians have equated the labels, (Arians or Semi-Arians), as those who believe Christ to be a created being.

Our pioneers clearly held Arian or semi-Arian views in regard to the person of Christ. They understood “firstborn over all creation” (Col 1:15) and “only begotten Son” (John 3:16) in a literal sense. The Father, therefore, was first and superior, and the Son, who had a beginning sometime in eternity, was subordinate to the Father. A corollary of this view was the belief that the Holy Spirit is an influence or the power of God, but not a person.”
(Gerhard Pfandl, Biblical Research Institute, The Doctrine of the Trinity Among Seventh-day Adventists; Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 17/1 (Spring 2006): 160-179)

“Adventist beliefs have changed over the years under the impact of ‘present truth’. Most startling is the teaching regarding Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Many of the pioneers, including James White, J. N. Andrews, Uriah Smith and J. H. Waggoner, held to an Arian or semi-Arian view–that is the Son at some point in time before the creation of our world was generated by the Father… Likewise, the Trinitarian understanding of God, now part of our fundamental beliefs was not generally held by the early Adventists. Even a few today do not subscribe to it.” (William Johnsson, “Present Truth: Walking in God’s Light”, Adventist Review, January 6, 1994, p. 10)

Were they Arians/Semi-Arians? Did they believe that Christ was a created being? Or did they actually have the correct understanding of the True God of the Bible and His Son?

The word Arian was used by Rome as a stigma. And that stigma would apply to anyone who disagreed with her (Roman Catholic Church and their dogma, especially the Trinity). It was like a theological slur. This had a real negative tone to it with real consequences, and history reveals that those who opposed Rome were persecuted as heretics. It is worth noting that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has adopted an attitude that is no different than the Roman Papacy as it defends its Trinity doctrine and similarly labels anyone who opposes the Trinity doctrine as either Arians or Semi-Arians.

Terms like “Arians” or “Semi-Arians” are almost always used in a pejorative sense against the pioneers to create a particular bias (ie pioneers were ignorant and did not know any better or they held to an archaic theological position which denigrates Christ’s divinity, etc) and to cajole those who might otherwise investigate the subject to stop in their tracks. This is no different than identity politics in the US and I’m sure elsewhere; ie Liberal leftist calling Christian Conservatives as homophobic bigots or labeling the white Republicans as racist nationalists, etc to create bias to undermine the opponent and to gain public support in favor of Liberal agenda; Conservatives do the same against the Liberals. If we want to have a healthy dialogue, we need to move away from these kinds of generalized labels…this goes for the non-trinitarians as well… I’m tired of the non-trinitarians demonizing the GC SDAs (especially the leaders) saying that the church has already fallen off the platform of God ordained “organization” when they accepted the trinity, etc and therefore they have hopelessly apostatized, etc. If you start off with either of these premises, any kind of dialogue will quickly devolve into basically undermining the respective parties as being ignorant, reprehensible and evil.

It is true that the Adventist pioneers held to a set of beliefs that were similar to Arians or Semi-Arians, but upon closer examination, you will find that their views did not necessarily fit as either Arians nor Semi-Arians (as far as how Arians/Semi-Arians are generally portrayed today). The mischaracterization of our pioneers’ beliefs, often intentional, may be attributed to certain biases the Adventist scholars and historian’s have toward non-trinitarianism and to distance themselves from the church’s past which they deem to be heretical. This is primarily the reason why most modern non-trinitarian Seventh-day Adventists, who generally align themselves with the pioneers, are also characterized as Arians, and are also accused of denigrating Christ as a created being.

First of all, as far as trying to reconstruct what Arius actually taught, and why, it is a formidable task, both because very little of his own work survived except in quotations selected for polemical purposes by his opponents, and also because there is no certainty about what theological and philosophical traditions formed his thought based on Arius’ survived work. This does raise some legitimate questions as to why the Catholic Church took such drastic measures to destroy all of Arius’ works, and you are left to wonder if there is any credence to any of the criticism against Arians, for there is no way to verify what Arius actually taught. Furthermore, given the fact that the only records we have are those that either fell through the hands of the Catholic power, or those which they have chosen to keep, whether in their original form or possibly altered, raises legitimate doubts as to whether or not any of Arius’ survived work is even authentic.

Even though (at the Council of Nicaea) Constantine ordered the writings of Arius to be destroyed, we know something of what Arius believed because of letters that have been preserved in various historical documents. In one such letter, Arius wrote (numbers in brackets were added only for the purpose of referencing):

Letter of Arius to Eusebius of Nicomedia-Date: c. 318:

[1] To that most beloved man of God, the faithful and orthodox Eusebius, from Arius, unjustly persecuted by father Alexander because of the all-conquering truth which you, Eusebius, also are defending!

[2] Since my father Ammonius is going to Nicomedia, it seemed reasonable and proper to greet you through him, remembering at the same time the innate love and affection which you have for the brothers on account of God and his Christ, because the bishop [Alexander] is severely ravaging and persecuting us and moving against us with every evil. Thus he drives us out of every city like godless men, since we will not agree with his public statements: that there was “always a God, always a Son;” “as soon as the Father, so soon the Son [existed];” “with the Father co-exists the Son unbegotten, ever-begotten, begotten without begetting;” “God neither precedes the Son in aspect or in a moment of time;” “always a God, always a Son, the Son being from God himself.”

[3] Since Eusebius, your brother in Caesarea, and Theodotus, and Paulinus, and Athanasius, and Gregory, and Aetius and all those in the East say that God pre-exists the Son without a beginning, they have been condemned, except for Philogonius and Hellenicus and Macarius, unlearned heretics some of whom say that the Son was “spewed out”, others t
hat he was an “emanation”, still others that he was “jointly unbegotten.”

[4] We are not able to listen to these kinds of impieties, even if the heretics threaten us with ten thousand deaths. But what do we say and think and what have we previously taught and do we presently teach? — that the Son is not unbegotten, nor a part of an unbegotten entity in any way, nor from anything in existence, but that he is subsisting in will and intention before time and before the ages, full <of grace and truth,> God, the only-begotten, unchangeable. (5.) Before he was begotten, or created, or defined, or established, he did not exist. For he was not unbegotten. But we are persecuted because we have said the Son has a beginning but God has no beginning. We are persecuted because of that and for saying he came from non-being. But we said this since he is not a portion of God nor of anything in existence. That is why we are persecuted; you know the rest.

I pray that you fare well in the Lord, remembering our tribulations, fellow-Lucianist, truly-called Eusebius [i.e. the pious one].

Source: http://www.fourthcentury.com/urkunde-1/

Notes: In the paragraph no. 4, Arius clearly distinguishes the Father as “unbegotten” while the Son is described as “begotten.” Contrary to a popular belief, Arius here appears to have held to a position that the Son was “begotten” as in an offspring of the Father but the phrase such as, “nor a part of an unbegotten entity in any way” or “he is not a portion of God” seems to suggest that Arius did not necessarily believed the Son as an ontological equal with the Father (Not having the same substance as the Father). Furthermore, Arius’ usage of such expressions as, “begotten” or “creation” are almost synonymously used as in paragraph #5, where it is stated, “Before he was begotten, or created, or defined, or established, he did not exist.” It appears that Arius used the term “creation” in a more generic sense here as in procreation or coming into existence rather than other created beings such as angels or humans.

Confession of faith from Arius and his followers to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria (date: c. 320):

[1] The Priests and Deacons to Our Blessed Father and Bishop, Alexander; greetings in the Lord.

[2] Our faith from our forefathers, which also we learned from you, Blessed Father, is this: We acknowledge One God, alone unbegotten, alone everlasting, alone without beginning, alone true, alone having immortality, alone wise, alone good, alone sovereign, judge, governor, and provider of all, unalterable and unchangeable, just and good, God of the Law and the Prophets and the New Testament; who begat an only-begotten Son before time and the ages, through whom he made both the ages [Heb 1:2] and all that was made; who begot Him not in appearance, but in reality; and that he made him subsist at his own will, unalterable and unchangeable, the perfect creature (ktisma) of God, but not as one of the creatures; offspring, but not as one of the other things begotten;

[3] nor as Valentinus pronounced that the offspring of the Father was an emanation (probolē); nor as the Manicheans taught that the offspring was a one-in-essence-portion (meros homoousion) of the Father; nor as Sabellius, dividing the Monad, speaks of a Son-Father; nor as Hieracas speaks of one torch [lit] from another, or as a lamp divided into two; nor that he who existed before was later generated or created anew into a Son, as you yourself, O blessed father, have often condemned both in church services and in council meetings; but, as we say, he was created at the will of God, before time and before the ages, and came to life and being from the Father, and the glories which coexist in him are from the Father. Source: http://www.fourthcentury.com/index.php/urkunde-6

Note: In the paragraph no. 4, we read, “the perfect creature (ktisma) of God, but not as one of the creatures; offspring, but not as one of the other things begotten;” While the translation reads, “creature,” the very expression is preceded by the phrases,“who begat an only-begotten Son” and “who begot him,” which is further qualified by what follows, “but not as one of the creatures; offspring, but not as one of the other things begotten;”

Again, in no. 4 we read such expressions as, “but the Son, begotten apart from time by the Father, and created (ktistheis) and founded before the ages” and “but was begotten apart from time before all things.”  The usage of the word, “created” and “begotten” seem interchangeable; There seems to be a case of grappling with the right semantics regarding the concept of Christ’s unique begetting. The term, “offspring” in no. 3 also clearly suggests a birth language or one being brought forth from another being. One thing that becomes clear is that Arius distinguishes Christ from all other creation.

You can also find a few remaining original documents of the early Arian controversy here: http://www.fourthcentury.com/documents-of-the-early-arian-controversy/

But having said this, there are four main beliefs that are GENERALLY (but not necessarily what Arius actually taught) attributed to both Arians and Semi-Arians today.

1. Christ had a point of origin and that He was/is a “created” being; the first and the greatest creation of God. (Jehovah’s Witnesses believe this way; Socinians and Unitarians believe similarly.)

2. They believe that the Father and Son are not ontological equals; Christ’s pre-incarnate nature was NOT of the same substance as the Father; the Son had a nature that was inferior to the Father (semi-Arians believe Christ had a nature that is similar but not the same see below).

“For it is impossible for him to fathom the Father, who is by himself.
For the Son himself does not even know his own essence (ousia),
For being Son, his existence is most certainly at the will of the Father.
What reasoning allows, that he who is from the Father
should comprehend and know his own parent?
For clearly that which has a beginning is not able to conceive of or grasp the existence of that which has no beginning.”
(Arius, “Thalia”; Source: http://www.fourthcentury.com/index.php/arius-thalia-intro)

“But what do
we say and think and what have we previously taught and do we presently teach? — that the Son is not unbegotten, nor a part of an unbegotten entity in any way, nor from anything in existence, but that he is subsisting in will and intention before time and before the ages, full <of grace and truth,> God, the only-begotten, unchangeable. (5.) Before he was begotten, or created, or defined, or established, he did not exist. For he was not unbegotten. But we are persecuted because we have said the Son has a beginning but God has no beginning. We are persecuted because of that and for saying he came from non-being.”  (Arius, Letter of Arius to Eusebius of Nicomedia; source: http://www.fourthcentury.com/urkunde-1/)

Note: Above writings appears to suggest that Arius understood the Son’s nature to be inferior to that of the Father. According to Arius (at least in his purported survived writings), Son is not the Father’s ontological equal; the Son having had a beginning is not able to conceive of or grasp the existence of that which has no beginning.”

3. And because the Son is not equal with the Father in nature, they believe that the Son can have no direct knowledge of the Father for He is of a different order of existence.

Below is an excerpt from Arius’ own writing, “Thalia”:

In brief, God is inexpressible to the Son.
ἔστι γὰρ ἑαυτῷ ὅ ἐστι τοῦτ‘ ἔστιν ἄλεκτος,
For he is in himself what he is, that is, indescribable,
ὥστε οὐδὲν τῶν λεγομένων κατά τε κατάληψιν συνίει ἐξειπεῖν ὁ υἱός.
So that the Son does not comprehend any of these things or have the understanding to explain them.
ἀδύνατα γὰρ αὐτῷ τὸν πατέρα τε ἐξιχνιάσει, ὅς ἐστιν ἐφ’ ἑαυτοῦ.
For it is impossible for him to fathom the Father, who is by himself.
αὐτὸς γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ οὐσίαν οὐκ οἶδεν,
For the Son himself does not even know his own essence (ousia),
υἱὸς γὰρ ὢν θελήσει πατρὸς ὑπῆρξεν ἀληθῶς.
For being Son, his existence is most certainly at the will of the Father.
τίς γοῦν λόγος συγχωρεῖ τὸν ἐκ πατρὸς ὄντα
What reasoning allows, that he who is from the Father
αὐτὸν τὸν γεννήσαντα γνῶναι ἐν καταλήψει;
should comprehend and know his own parent?
δῆλον γὰρ ὅτι τὸ αρχὴν ἔχον, τὸν ἄναρχον, ὡς ἔστιν,
For clearly that which has a beginning
ἐμπερινοῆσαι ἢ ἐμπεριδράξασθαι οὐχ οἷόν τέ ἐστιν.
is not able to conceive of or grasp the existence of that which has no beginning.”

(Arius, Thalia; Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arius)

4. It is unclear exactly as to what Arius’ view was on pneumatology but the general opinion is that Arians believe the idea that the Holy Spirit was the power and presence of God of Christ, emanating from them.

Semi-Arianism

“Semi-Arianism was a position regarding the relationship between God the Father and the Son of God, adopted by some 4th century Christians. Though the doctrine modified the teachings of Arianism, it still rejected the doctrine that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are of the same substance, or con-substantial, and was therefore considered to be heretical by many contemporary Christians.[1]…. Semi-Arians, however, admitted that the Son was “of a similar substance” (homoiousios) as the Father but not “of the same substance” (homoousios) as him.[1] This doctrinal controversy revolved around two words that in writing differed only by a single letter but whose difference in meaning gave rise to furious contests.[2]”

[1] “semi-Arianism.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2012.

[2] Gary Holloway, Randall J. Harris, Mark Cothran Black (editors), Theology Matters (College Press 1998 ISBN 978-0-89900813-4), pp. 24–25
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semi-Arianism

“Homoiousios (Greek: ὁμοιούσιος from ὅμοιος, hómoios, “similar” and οὐσία, ousía, “essence, being”) is a Christian theological term, coined in the 4th-century by a distinctive group of Christian theologians who held the belief –>that God the Son was of a similar, but not identical, essence (or substance) <–with God the Father.“ Source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homoiousian

Note: It’s worth noting that SDA pioneers were also characterized as Semi-Arians. Trinidadian creed asserts “neither dividing the substance nor confounding the persons” Thus, homoousios was the orthodox position…But the Semi-Arians held to the view that Christ’s nature was “similar” (homoiousios- note the “i” discrepancy) to the Father but NOT “of a same substance” (or consubstantial); Therefore the Semi-Arians disagreed with the orthodox position.

Some Clarity needed-Semi-Arian view options

Now, the issue in the trinitarian controversies was exacerbated by words that had a variety of meanings. But what was the controversy over? It was over the relationship Christ sustained to the Father. Three words came into play in this time:

Homoousios – Of same substance (Consubstantialists/Eternal Generation)
Homoiousios – Of similar/like substance (Semi-Arians/Eternally Begotten)
Heteroousios – Of different substance (Arians/Created)

Option 1: hómoios, “similar” means equal attributes.
The homoousios and homoiousios parties believed same attributes/nature but differed over whether the substance of deity was divisible.” Main difference here with orthodox trinity was on the issue of divisible and indivisible/consubstantial.

Option 2: hómoios, “similar” means “close but not exactly the same.”
Christ had inferior nature. “similar” attributes/substance but not ontologically equal with the Father. Also rejects indivisible/consubstantialism. Difference here with the Catholic orthodoxy (homoousios) is 2 fold. 1) inferior nature, 2) divisible.

Which is it?

Now, here’s the thing, words can mean different things… today the word “similar” often means “close but not exactly the same”. “Same substance” can mean “indivisibly one” or “equal in nature”. But in the above three options, if “similar” meant “close but not exactly the same”, it would be the same as heteroousios. Thus I would argue that the issue was about consubstantial/indivible nature of deity. Homoousios safeguarded the consubstantial view where you had one ousios (substance) with multiple hypostases (persons).

From all we can discern from the known data, Arius would actually fall under Semi-Arianism. I would argue that Semi-Arianism was the apostolic view, held by Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc. Others took his views to extremes with the heteroousios.

Arius was a student of Lucian of Antioch, who also taught Eusebius of Nicomedia who in turn taught Ulfilas, apostle to the Goths… Meanwhile there is also a Patrick of Briton link…All were semi-Arian.

Interestingly, not a SINGLE VOICE in this ancient controversy disputed that Christ WAS begotten… that’s a very, VERY novel idea. They all argued over WHAT IT MEANT Christ was generated/begotten/etc.

The confusion was begun with Origen who fused Greek eternity with the Biblical view of begotten. And of course, Origen lived in Alexandria, where Alexander and Athanasius came from…

If option 1 is correct then current SDAs should concede that at least with Christ’s nature they are more in common with the Semi-Arians.

If option 2 is correct then they can’t generalize and say that the SDA pioneers were Semi-Arians, for the SDA pioneers clearly affirmed the ontological equality of the Father and the Son and also believed in eternal begottenism (but not in the Greek sense of the word, “eternity”-without beginning).

I suspect that most SDAs don’t really know which option they are referring to when they claim that the pioneers are semi-arians.

What did our pioneers believe?

1. Not unlike the Arians and the Semi-Arians, our pioneers believed Christ had a point of origin. But while a few Adventist pioneers, including Uriah Smith, initially held to a position that may be construed as Arianism (Smith initially used the expression such as “creation” rather than “begotten” in referring to pre-incarnate Christ), the denomination eventually adopted a unique position which made them neither Arian nor Semi-Arian. They believed Christ to be the literal “begotten” Son of God (not created) who possessed the same substance as the Father.

“Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. HE WAS BEGOTTEN, NOT CREATED. HE IS OF THE SUBSTANCE OF THE FATHER, SO THAT IN HIS VERY NATURE HE IS GOD; and since this is so ‘it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell.’ Col. 1:19 … While both are of the same nature, the Father is first in point of time. He is also greater in that he had no beginning, WHILE CHRIST’S PERSONALITY HAD A BEGINNING.” — (E.J. Waggoner, Signs of the Times, April 8, 1889)

“The Scriptures declare that Christ is “the only begotten son of God.” HE IS BEGOTTEN, NOT CREATED. As to when He was begotten, it is not for us to inquire, nor could our minds grasp it if we were told. The prophet Micah tells us all that we can know about it in these words, “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 the days of eternity.” Micah 5:2, margin. THERE WAS A TIME WHEN CHRIST PROCEEDED FORTH AND CAME FROM GOD, from the bosom of the Father (John 8:42; 1:18), but that time was so far back in the days of eternity that to finite comprehension it is practically without beginning…” (E. J. Waggoner, 1890, Christ and His Righteousness, pp. 19-22)

“CHRIST WAS BEGOTTEN, NOT CREATED; Satan was created, not begotten. As THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON Christ could enter fully into the councils of God. Because he could not do this as Christ did, envy sprang up in the heart of Satan, and he began to determine, I will exalt myself. He began to stir up rebellion, to say, God is arbitrary, and he began also to get his sympathisers. “We are in slavery, and I have a better plan of government. Choose me as leader, exalt me, and then I will exalt you.” Do you not see the same principle that has been in the world ever since the fall? You exalt me and I will exalt you,-perhaps. {E.J. Waggoner Bible Echo and Signs of the Times February 17, 1896, p. 52.12}

“God alone is without beginning. At the earliest epoch when a beginning could be,—a period so remote that to finite minds it is essentially eternity,—appeared the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1. This UNCREATED WORD WAS THE BEING, who, in the fulness of time, was made flesh, and dwelt among us. His beginning was not like that of any other being in the universe. It is set forth in the mysterious expressions, “his [God’s] only begotten Son” (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9), “the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14), and, “I proceeded forth and came from God.” John 8:42. Thus it appears that by some divine impulse or process, not creation, known only to Omniscience, and possible only to Omnipotence, the Son of God appeared. And then the Holy Spirit (by an infirmity of translation called “the Holy Ghost”), the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the divine afflatus and medium of their power, representative of them both (Ps. 139:7), was in existence also.” (Uriah Smith, 1898, Looking Unto Jesus, page 10)

“Will you please favor me with those scriptures which plainly say that Christ is a created being?

Answer: “YOU ARE MISTAKEN IN SUPPOSING THAT S.D. ADVENTISTS TEACH THAT CHRIST WAS EVER CREATED. THEY BELIEVE, ON THE CONTRARY, THAT HE WAS “BEGOTTEN” OF THE FATHER, AND THAT HE CAN PROPERLY BE CALLED GOD AND WORSHIPED AS SUCH.”(W.H. Little John Question No. 96, Review and Herald, April 17, 1883, The commentary, Scripture questions, ‘Answers by W. H. Littlejohn)

“Elder Porter then said that IN SPEAKING OF CHRIST HE SHOULD NOT HAVE SAID CREATED, BUT “BEGOTTEN.” Begotten is the exact language of the Scripture. The new birth which we must experience to become the children of God is a new creation. We are born of the Spirit of God. This is beyond our comprehension. NEITHER CAN WE TELL HOW CHRIST WAS BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER. This is one of the “deep things of God.” {General Conference and Daily Bulletin February 2-4, 1893, p. 120.5}

“It is for the well-being and happiness of God’s creatures that some of his intelligences should receive “gifts” and “powers” which others do not. UPON CHRIST, THE ONLY BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER (ALL OTHER BEINGS WERE CREATED BY CHRIST) was bestowed creative, life-giving, and law-making power. In these he was made equal with the eternal Father. Upon no other being were bestowed such gifts. With this power Christ not only created all things, but he up-holds all life in this and every shining world. We read of him, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins; who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Colossians 1:14-17. {GCDB February 2-4, 1893, p. 99.11}

“Christ wasBEGOTTEN, NOT CREATED; Satan wasCREATED, NOT BEGOTTEN. AS THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, Christ could enter fully into the councils of God. Because he could not do this as Christ did, envy sprang up in the heart of Satan, and he began to determine, I will exalt myself.” {W. W. Prescott, BEST February 17, 1896 p.212}

“Adam was the son of God.” Luke iii. 35. But in Adam we are the sons of God only by creation; he was created the son of God.Christ was NOT CREATED the Son of God; He was the Son of God, THE ONLY BEGOTTEN of theFather. The relationship of the human family, sonship by creation as in Adam, gives very high and exalted privileges.By being made the son of God, man was placed in a position where he could recognise and understandGod. Of all the created beings on the earth, man was the only one who could recognise God as God. Yet Adam, the created son, had not the same relationship to the Father as Christ, the only begotten Son, who was born, or who simply was the Son of God in eternal times that no human mind can fix or comprehend.” {W. W. Prescott, Our Place as Sons, Present Truth–December 20, 1900; Review and Herald September 23, 1902 p.6}

“As the absolute Son, He, who ‘in the beginning was with God, and was God,’ WAS BEGOTTEN BEFORE TIMES ETERNAL; as the Son, who was the-God-man, He was begotten by the resurrection from the dead. So shall we be ‘sons of God, being sons, of the resurrection.’ Luke 20:26.” (W.W. Prescott Signs of the Times, Jan 8, 1929)

“…ANY IDEA THAT THE SON IS PART OF THE CREATION ITSELF IS UTTERLY FOREIGN TO PAUL’S CONCEPTION. See Colossians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Philippians 2:6-8. Moffatt makes the expression, “the first-born of all creation,’ plainer by translating the Greek: “born first before all the creation;” and with this Goodspeed is in substantial agreement.

“THE WORD “BORN” IS USED BECAUSE, IN CONTRASTING THE CREATOR* WITH HIS CREATION, IT POSTULATES THE NATURE OF THE LORD’S ORIGIN. HE WAS NOT CREATED AS WERE CREATURES, BUT WAS BORN OUT OF GOD AS GOD; AND SO IS OF THE SAME NATURE AS THE FATHER. Just as a human son is born human by nature because his father is human, so the divine Son of God is by nature “born” God because His Father is God” (“William G. Wirth “The ‘Signs” Question Corner” Signs of the Times, August 5th, 1930)


Known statements by early pioneers who referred to Christ as “created.”

J. M. Stephenson:

“I will conclude the evidence upon this point by quoting one more passage. Paul says, “And again, when he bringeth the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” Heb.i,6. He must have been his Son before he could send him into the world. In verse 2, the Father declares that he made the worlds by the same Son he is here represented as sending into the world. His Son must have existed before he created the worlds; and he must have been begotten before he existed; hence the begetting here spoken of, must refer to his Divine nature, and in reference to his order, he is the first-begotten; hence as a matter of necessity he must have been “the first born of every creature.” Col.i,15. “The first born of every creature.” Creature signifies creation; hence to be the first born of every creature, (creation) HE MUST BE A CREATED BEING; and as such, his life and immortality must depend upon the Father’s will, just as much as angels, or redeemed men: and as the Father has given his Son to have life in himself, so his Son will give this life to all his children. His invitation is to all, “Come unto me and I will give you life.” The glorious promise for all the pious dead is, that their lives are hid with Christ in God, and when he who is their life shall appear, then shall they appear with him in glory. {ARSH November 14, 1854, 106.4} (Atonement 132.2)

Note: J.M. Stephenson left Adventism very early (approx 1855) so we shouldn’t necessarily regard him as an Adventist pioneer and we do not have any further evidence whether he changed his views later. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the expression, “created being,” which Stephenson used needs to be qualified. It appears that Stephenson may have used the term in a loose manner and in a more generic sense for “coming into being” instead of how it is more specifically defined today. For it is evident that Stephenson appears to distinguish Christ’s coming into existence from other created beings by stating that Christ was begotten “BEFORE THE FIRST ACT OF CREATIVE POWER WAS PUT FORTH” (ARSH November 14, 1854, page 106.1) and that he further distinguished Christ begetting within the same article by stating, “To be the only begotten Son of God MUST BE UNDERSTOOD IN A DIFFERENT SENSE THAN TO BE A SON BY CREATION” (ARSH November 14, 1854, page 105.7).

J. N. Loughborough:

“But, say you, Christ is immortal. “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” If you claim that he was immortal prior to his mission on earth, he must have received that immortality from the Father, for he proceeded from the Father. “These things, saith the Amen. ‘The faithful and true Witness,’ the beginning of the Creation of God.” Rev. iii, 14. But had he been immortal WHEN CREATED, how could he have died? We do not wish to be understood that he was mortal, but that like angels, (only he stood in a higher sphere) he was incorrupt, and had it not been the plan of God that he should suffer “the just for the unjust,” doubtless his existence in glory would have been eternal. He is now immortal, “a quickening, life giving spirit.” But he became such by a resurrection from the dead. {1855 JNL MPC 14.2-An Examination of the Scripture Testimony} {ARSH September 4, 1855, page 34.10}

Uriah Smith:

“This view, and this only, is consistent with the scripture which represents CHRIST AS A CREATED BEING, [“the beginning of the creation of God,” Rev.iii,14], and that large class of texts which speak of Christ a
s distinct from the Father, in as plain terms as language can employ, and declare him to be subordinate to him, sent forth by him, dying to reconcile the world to him, etc., declarations utterly at variance with the popular idea of a triune God. {October 13, 1859 Uriah Smith, ARSH 164.3}

In his first book, Thoughts, Critical and Practical on the Book of Revelation-1865 edition, Smith again described Christ as a created Being:

“Moreover he is the ‘beginning of the creation of God.’ Not the beginner, but the beginning, of the creation, the FIRST CREATED BEING, DATING HIS EXISTENCE BACK BEFORE ANY OTHER CREATED BEING OR THING, next to the self-existent and eternal God. On this expression Barnes makes the following significant admission: ‘If it were demonstrated from other sources that Christ was, in fact, a created being, and the first that God had made, it cannot be denied that this language would appropriately express that fact.’” (Uriah Smith, Thoughts, Critical and Practical on the Book of Revelation-1865 edition, pg. 59)

Note: Regarding Uriah Smith’s (as well as Stephenson and Loughborough’s) usage of the term “created” may be the victim of evolving language. If you look up the etymology of the word, you’ll find:

create (v.)
“to bring into being,” early 15c., from Latin creatus, past participle of creare “to make, bring forth, produce, procreate, beget, cause,” related to Ceres and to crescere “arise, be born, increase, grow,” from PIE root *ker- (2) “to grow.” De Vaan writes that the original meaning of creare “was ‘to make grow’, which can still be found in older texts ….” Related: Createdcreating. (https://www.etymonline.com/word/create)

Thus, not unlike Stephenson, Smith and Loughborough may have been using “created” in a generic sense, as in “to bring into being”, “bring forth” or to “beget” as this was an early meaning for the word which was lost as it narrowed towards a certain type of coming into being. The fact that “created” is a part of the word “procreated” demonstrates this connection. But later, as he felt the “heat” over being misunderstood, Smith edited later version of his book to remove ambiguity:

“The Scriptures nowhere speak of Christ as a created being, but on the contrary plainly state that he was begotten of the Father. (See remarks on Rev. 3:14, where it is shown that Christ is not a created being.) But while as the Son he does not possess a co-eternity of past existence with the Father, the beginning of his existence, as the begotten of the Father, antedates the entire work of creation, in relation to which he stands as joint creator with God.” (Uriah Smith, 1882, Daniel And The Revelation, page 430)

“Moreover, he is “the beginning of the creation of God.” Some attempt by this language to uphold the error that Christ was a created being, dating his existence anterior to that of any other created being or thing, next to the self-existent and eternal God. But the language does not necessarily imply that he was created; for the words, “the beginning of the creation,” may simply signify that the work of creation, strictly speaking, was begun by him.” (Uriah Smith, Daniel and the Revelation 1897; pg. 371.2)

The same sort of thing probably was at play in the Arian controversy. In one of the few extant statements of Arius as quoted by his opponents, he used several synonyms for the idea of coming into being, one of which was the term for “created”. He really taught a begotten Christ, but later neo-Arians may have taken his ideas to extremes or his opponents may have over-emphasised a narrow meaning of the word.

The same can be true of Ellen White who used the term “made” regarding Christ and even John and Hebrews which use ginomai referring to Christ (often translated “made”)

The common thread between Stephenson, Smith and Loughborough is that “created” is only used in connection to the verse in Revelation 3:14 which in the KJV reads, “beginning of the creation of God”… It appears that they were using Biblical language the same way Arius used “created” (εκτισεν) as it appears in the LXX of Proverbs 8:22.

Chas. L. Boyd:

“6. AFTER WHOSE FORM, OR IMAGE, WAS CHRIST CREATED?
‘Who, being in the form of God, thoUght it not robbery to be equal with God.’ ‘Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.’ Phil. 2:6; Heb.1:3.” (The Trinity, Chas. L Boyd; Bible Echo and Signs of the Times October 15, 1890; pg. 315)


2. SDA pioneers affirmed the full deity of Christ.

One of the main criticisms from the modern trinitarian Adventists of the pioneers’ non-trinitarian position is the idea that, if Jesus is the literal pre-incarnate begotten Son then, it denigrates the divinity of Christ. Based on some of the data, it appears that the church back then faced similar objections.

“A survey of other Adventist writers during these years (up to 1881) reveals, that to a man, they rejected the trinity, yet, with equal unanimity they upheld the divinity of Christ. To reject the trinity is not necessarily to strip the Saviour of His divinity. Indeed, certain Adventist writers felt that it was the trinitarians who filled the role of degrading Christs divine nature.” {Russell Holt “The doctrine of the Trinity in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, its rejection and acceptance”, A term paper for Dr. Mervyn Maxwell 1969}

When he says “to a man” he means that virtually every Adventist rejected the trinity. In addition, we find that all the early Adventist pioneers also upheld the divinity of Christ. The early Adventist church was united on these points! This seems strange to many today, since most Christians, as well as today’s SDAs, believe that to deny the trinity is also to deny that Jesus is divine. But the Adventist pioneers believed that it was the trinitarians who degraded Christ’s divine nature. They believed that it was the Trinitarians who were robbing Christ of His real or actual divinity.

The unitarians believed that Jesus was created like all the rest of us. This is called Arianism. But the early Adventists did NOT believe that Jesus was created! Instead, they believed that He was begotten (in an offspring sense), having been brought forth from God His Father, that He is the only begotten Son of God.

“The Eternal Father, the unchangeable one, gave his only begotten Son, tore from his bosom Him who was made in the expr
ess image of his person, and sent him down to earth to reveal how greatly he loved mankind. He is willing to do more, “more than we can ask or think.” An inspired writer asks a question which should sink deep into every heart: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:32)” {Review and Herald – RH, July 9, 1895 par. 13.}

Let’s look a bit at what some of the early pioneers wrote concerning God and the divinity of Christ. In 1878, a reader of the Review and Herald asked if Seventh-day Adventists were unitarians or trinitarians; answer given was:

“Neither. We do not believe in the three-one God of the Trinitarians nor in the low views of Jesus Christ held by unitarians. We believe that Christ was a divine being, not merely in his mission, but in his person also. . .” {Review and Herald – RH June 27, 1878 “To correspondents”}

Here’s another statement by one of the leading pioneers, J.H. Waggoner (Father of E.J. Waggoner):

Many theologians really think that the Atonement, in respect to its dignity and efficacy, rests upon the doctrine of a trinity. But we fail to see any connection between the two. To the contrary, the advocates of that doctrine really fall into the difficulty which they seem anxious to avoid. Their difficulty consists in this: They take the denial of a trinity to be equivalent to a denial of the divinity of Christ. Were that the case we should cling to the doctrine of a trinity as tenaciously as any can; but it is not the case. They who have read our remarks on the death of the Son of God know that we firmly believe in the divinity of Christ; But we cannot accept the idea of a trinity, as it is held by Trinitarians without giving up our claim on the dignity of the Sacrifice made for our redemption. {J.H. Waggoner “The Atonement in light of Nature and Revelation”, 1884 Edition, Chapter ”Doctrine of a Trinity Subversive of the Atonement”.}

It is a big issue to deny the trinity because in most people’s eyes, they are also denying that Jesus is divine. However the early Adventists realized that the dignity of the Atonement was at stake. The robbing of Christ involved His sacrifice on Calvary. Did the Son of God really die, or was it only a human form that died because the trinity was actually in heaven and even one part of the trinity god cannot die?

In this next quote, one of two Adventists were speaking to a couple of Congregationalists. Then one of the men asked: Do you believe in the divinity of Christ?” That was when the second Adventist entered the conversation:

“I now thought it was my turn to join in; so I replied, “Why, yes sir. We believe that Christ is all divine; that in him dwell ‘the fullness of the God-head bodily;’ That ‘he is the brightness of the Father’s glory’, ‘the 10 express image of his person’, ‘upholding all things by the word of his power’. {R&H June 25, 1867 brother Johnston, letter to Uriah Smith}

Other Christians believed that since Adventists did not believe in the trinity that they also did not believe in the divinity of Christ, like the unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses. This next quote is the response to such a question sent into the Review and Herald:

“To A.S. You are correct in saying we do not deny the divinity of Christ. If those who assert such a thing are acquainted with our faith, they know better; if they do not know they are guilty of speaking evil of the thing they know not.” {R&H July 14, 1868}

From this answer, we can understand that it should have been a well known fact that the early Adventists did not deny the divinity of Christ. If anybody knew anything about our faith back then, they would know without a shadow of a doubt that the Adventists believed in the divinity of Christ.

In 1893 even with the church’s non-trinitarian-begotten-Son theology notwithstanding, Ellen White said there was not a people on earth who believed in the Divinity of Christ more than the Adventists.

“For instance, an effort was made to obtain the use of the hall at a village four miles from Hastings, where some of our workers proposed to present the gospel to the people; but they did not succeed in obtaining the hall, because a school-teacher there opposed the truth, and declared to the people that Seventh-day Adventists did not believe in the divinity of Christ. This man may not have known what our faith is on this point, but he was not left in ignorance. He was informed that THERE IS NOT A PEOPLE ON EARTH WHO HOLD MORE FIRMLY TO THE TRUTH OF CHRIST’S PRE-EXISTENCE THAN DO SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS. But the answer was given that they did not want that the doctrines of Seventh-day Adventists should be promulgated in that community. So the door was closed.” — Ellen White, RH, December 5, 1893 par. 5

In 1871, Ellen White sat with her husband in a train as he explained why they rejected the Trinity but believed in the Divinity of Christ:

“This missionary seemed very liberal in his feelings toward all Christians. But after catechizing us [James and Ellen White] upon the trinity, and finding that we were not sound upon the subject of his triune God, he became earnest in denouncing unitarianism, which takes from Christ his divinity, and leaves him but a man. Here, as far as our views were concerned, he was combating a man of straw. WE DO NOT DENY THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST. WE DELIGHT IN GIVING FULL CREDIT TO ALL THOSE STRONG EXPRESSIONS OF SCRIPTURE WHICH EXALT THE SON OF GOD. We believe him to be the divine person addressed by Jehovah in the words, ” Let us make man.” He was with the Father before the world was. He came from God, and he says, “I go to him that sent me.” The apostle speaks of Christ as he now is, our mediator, having laid aside our nature. “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. —James White, RH June 6, 1871

“THE SIMPLE LANGUAGE OF THE SCRIPTURES REPRESENT THE FATHER AND SON AS TWO DISTINCT PERSONS. With this view of the subject there are meaning and force to language which speaks of the Father and the Son. But to say that Jesus Christ “is the very and eternal God,” makes him his own son, and his own father, and that he came from himself, and went to himself. And when the Father sends Jesus Christ, whom the Heavens must receive till the times of restitution, it will simply be Jesus Christ, or the eternal Father sending himself. — ibid

We have not as much sympathy with Unitarians that deny the divinity of Christ, as with Trinitarians who hold that the Son is the eternal Father, and talk so mistily about the three-one God. Give the Master all that divinity with which the Holy Scriptures clothe him.” — ibid

We can see that the Adventists were constrained to the expressions of Scripture. Thus, they gave full credit to all those strong expressions in the Bible which exalt the Son of God. Adventists gave all the divinity that the Holy Scriptures had clothed him. This shows that the Adventists were willing to follow the
Bible even if it meant they would have to have doctrines which are not popular.

5. Early Adventist’s pneumatology and their understanding of the Holy Spirit was unique, in that while they believe the Holy Spirit to be the Spirit of the Father and the Son, they also affirmed that He is a “Person.”  

“‘I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.’ (John 14:18). The divine Spirit that the world’s Redeemer promised to send is the PRESENCE AND POWER of God.”– (Signs of The Times, Nov. 23, 1891)

“In the plan of restoring in men the divine image, it was provided that the Holy Spirit should move upon human minds, and be AS THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST, a molding agency upon human character.” –(RH, Feb. 12, 1895)

“They have ONE God and ONE Saviour; and ONE Spirit–the Spirit of Christ–is to bring unity into their ranks.” — (E.G. White, 9T 189.3, 1909)

“The terms ‘Holy Ghost’, are a harsh and repulsive translation. It should be ‘Holy Spirit’ (hagion pneuma) in every instance. THIS SPIRIT IS THE SPIRIT OF GOD AND THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST; the Spirit being the same whether it is spoken of as pertaining to God or Christ. But respecting this Spirit, the Bible uses expressions which cannot be harmonized with the idea that it is a person like the Father and the Son. Rather it is shown to be a divine influence from them both, the medium which represents their presence and by which they have knowledge and power through all the universe, when not personally present.” (Uriah Smith, Review & Herald, October 28, 1890)

“THE HOLY SPIRT IS A PERSON, for He beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. When this witness is borne, it carries with it its own evidence. At such times we believe and are sure that we are the children of God. . .” {Ev 616.6}

“THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS A PERSONALITY, else He could not bear witness to our spirits and with our spirits that we are the children of God. HE MUST ALSO BE A DIVINE PERSON, else He could not search out the secrets which lie hidden in the mind of God. “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”–Manuscript 20, 1906. {Ev 617.1}

Note: Ellen White used expressions like “Person”, “Personality” to describe the Holy Spirit for the Holy Spirit is the very presence of the Father and the Son; they are NOT “IT” they are “Persons”, Their own Spirit is not devoid of their “Personality”; thus, designations such as “He” or “Person” is rightly ascribed in describing the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when Christ gives us Himself (by His own Holy Spirit) it is not just some impersonal force or essence. No, it is very personal and intimate. It is Christ’s own presence, though in Spirit and unseen, but having Christ’s very own personality. Holy Spirit is imbued with the very mind, power and the presence of the Father and the Son with a distinct (different and yet unmistakably their own) personality. Therefore, it would make perfect sense why she would even describe the Holy Spirit as having a “distinct personality” (20MR 324.2) but not to be understood as another being.

Conclusion:

Again, for anyone who claims to know what Arius actually taught is clearly treading under a false pretense and should be regarded with caution for there just isn’t enough evidence to establish a reliable conclusion. The history and the belief of Arius and Arians themselves have been largely misrepresented, but to accuse and to surmise a particular group of believers based on the misinformation as being either Arians or Semi-Arians is an unfair characterization that is intended to discredit anyone from challenging the orthodoxy or the church’s creed. The epithets are by design, not unlike the Papacy of old, to create a stigma to stop someone in their tracks from furthering their inquiry into the subject.

It is unfortunate that many conclude, though not accurately, based on a few statements by some respected historians, that SDA pioneers were either Arians or Semi-Arians. However, evidences show that SDA pioneers held to a system of beliefs that were uniquely their own. Therefore to generalize the early Seventh-day Adventists as being either Arians or Semi-Arians, obfuscates the church history and undermines what our church pioneers actually taught and believed.

Additional Notes:

“An erroneous charge was circulated that all who were called Arians believed that Christ was a created being. [Footnote: It is doubtful if many believed Christ to be a created being. Generally, those evangelical bodies who opposed the papacy and who were branded as Arians confessed both the divinity of Christ and that He was begotten, not created, by the Father. They recoiled from other extreme deductions and speculations concerning the Godhead.]” — (Benjamin G. Wilkinson, Truth Triumphant, p. 92)

“Whether the teachings of Arius were such as are usually represented to us or not, who can say? Phillipus Limborch doubts that Arius himself ever held that Christ was created instead of being begotten [Footnote: Limborch, The History of the Inquisition, page 95].” — (Benjamin G. Wilkinson, Truth Triumphant, p. 142)

In 538 A.D, the Arian believers were completely wiped out by the Catholic Church, leaving the Papacy as the sole “Corrector of heretics.” Anyone opposing the Catholic teaching of the Trinity was exterminated, for “the Mystery of the Trinity is the central doctrine of the Catholic Faith.” — (Handbook for Today’s Catholic, p. 11)

“The three divisions which were plucked up were the Heruli in 493, the Vandals in 534, and the Ostrogoths in 538 A.D. Justinian, the emperor, whose seat was at Constantinople, working through the general Belisarius, was the power which overthrew the three kingdoms represented by the three horns, and THE REASON FOR THEIR OVERTHROW WAS THEIR ADHERENCE TO ARIANISM IN OPPOSITION TO THE ORTHODOX CATHOLIC FAITH. The details of the overthrow, and the religious controversy which was the root of the trouble, are fully given by Gibbon in the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” — (S.N. Haskell, The Story of Daniel the Prophet, p. 117, 1908)

And further, “The contest between ARIANISM and the orthodox CATHOLICISM was the means of ENTHRONING THE PAPACY.” — (lbid, p. 266)

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