Trinity, A Case of Homonym

“The Bible is not given to us in grand superhuman language. Jesus, in order to reach man where he is, took humanity. The Bible must be given in the language of men. Everything that is human is imperfect. DIFFERENT MEANINGS ARE EXPRESSED BY THE SAME WORD; THERE IS NOT ONE WORD FOR EACH DISTINCT IDEA. The Bible was given for practical purposes. ”

— Ellen White, Ms24-1886.6

A homonym is a word that is said or spelled the same way as another word but has a different meaning. “Write” and “right” is a good example of a pair of homonyms. Another example would be, “by” as in near and “buy” as in purchase. In this case, two words sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

Homonyms can also be spelled exactly the same way but pronounced differently — like minute, pronounced, “MIN-it,” meaning unit of time and minute, pronounced “my-NOOT “ meaning “tiny”.

Or homonyms can even be spelled exactly the same, pronounced the same but have a different meaning as in

fair (county fair) and fair (reasonable)

right (opposite of wrong) and right (opposite of left)

bark (the sound of a dog) and bark (the skin of a tree)

Homonym traces back to the Greek words homos, meaning “same,” and onuma, meaning “name.” So a homonym is sort of like two people who have the same name: called the same thing but different. Point here is that just because the same word is used (i.e “trinity”) doesn’t necessarily mean it is conveying the same idea.

When it comes to the term “trinity”, we may run the risk of conflating or obfuscating the meaning due to its homonymic pitfalls. The term “trinity” can take on a different meaning given the context or the period in which it was used.

Case in point…

Did Uriah Smith change his views on Trinity?

Misunderstanding of Uriah Smith’s statement explained

There’s a Uriah Smith statement circulated by trinitarian Adventists (with a pertinent portion conveniently omitted by an ellipsis “…” ) as an evidence to claim that Uriah Smith (who was a staunch non-trinitarian) has changed his position on the doctrine of Trinity later in his life. Below is the statement:

“Do the Scriptures warrant the praise or worship of the Holy Spirit?… in the formula for baptism, the name ” Holy Ghost,” or “Holy Spirit,” is associated with that of the Father and the Son. And if the name can be thus used, why could it not properly stand as a part of the same trinity in the hymn of praise, ” Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost ” (Uriah Smith, RH Oct 27, 1896)

But the full context of the noted statement, which originally appeared in the Review and Herald Oct. 27, 1896 (as a response to a question), proves to be otherwise. The omitted portions in the above statement are emphasized by the words in caps below; please note the statement with the inclusion of the previously omitted portion:

“Do the Scriptures warrant the praise or worship of the Holy Spirit? IF NOT, DOES NOT THE LAST LINE OF THE DOXOLOGY CONTAIN AN UNSCRIPTURAL SENTIMENT? D. H.

ANSWER.— WE KNOW OF NO PLACE IN THE BIBLE WHERE WE ARE COMMANDED TO WORSHIP THE HOLY SPIRIT, AS WAS COMMANDED IN THE CASE OF CHRIST (HEB 1:6) OR WHERE WE FIND AN EXAMPLE OF THE WORSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, AS IN THE CASE OF CHRIST. LUKE 21:52. YET in the formula for baptism, the name ” Holy Ghost,” or “Holy Spirit,” is associated with that of the Father and the Son. And if the name can be thus used, why could it not properly stand as a part of the same trinity in the hymn of praise, ” Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost ” (Uriah Smith, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | October 27, 1896 digital library pdf 9/16)

Statement, which originally appeared in the Review and Herald Oct. 27, 1896:


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Note: The entire context of the statement should leave no doubt as to what Uriah Smith’s view was at the time he wrote this statement. But even so, the use of the expression, “trinity” is certainly notable and one has to question why he elected to use this term as it relates to the doxology. Was Uriah Smith’s use of the word connote his endorsement of the doctrine of the trinity? Not necessarily. One has merely to read Looking Unto Jesus, Uriah Smith’s book on the life of Christ, printed in 1898, to see that he was clearly not a Trinitarian at this time.

It is interesting however that the term is only used in connection as a collective term for Father, Son and Holy Spirit, particularly in connection with Matthew 28:19. I would submit that Smith used the word “trinity” because that word, when used with a little “t,” simply means a group of three, as it will be demonstrated from inspiration:

Though Ellen White came out of Methodist church (which was a trinitarian denomination), in her approximately 25 million words she carefully avoided the usage of the word, “trinity” to describe God even though she had plenty of opportunity to do so and clearly knew the word.

Furthermore, we know that Ellen White has read trinitarian authors (i.e. W. E. Boardman, John Harris) and even used their wording on different occasions (see the article Heavenly Trio in a Nutshell) but she never once described “God” as a “trinity” or spoke of a “triune God” or used the term, “God” to mean “a unity of 3 persons” nor any other expression that alluded to a God of plurality. Instead, she said “God is a [numerically singular] person”:

GOD IS A PERSON and Christ is a person. Christ is spoken of in the Word as ‘the brightness of His Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.’” {1SAT 343.3}

“I have often seen the lovely Jesus, that He is a person. I asked Him if His FATHER WAS A PERSON AND HAD A FORM LIKE HIMSELF. Said Jesus, “I am in the express image of My Father’s person.” {EW 77.1}

Ellen White said Christ and His Father are personal beings with Tangible forms. This counters the Methodist’s creedal articles of faith, as well as Catholic’s creed, which made God formless: “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts”.

She did however used the word just once to denote three fleshly desires mentioned in 1 John 2:15-17:

“This warning now comes to you, and what will you do with it? Will you say, “Have no fear of me?” But beware of that which the old writers called the world’s trinity—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. If you trifle and tamper with these, they will prove your ruin….{Lt43-1898.25}

Note: The expression, “world’s trinity” was used to merely list 3 types of sinful desires in the world – the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life. Thus, the expression, Mrs. White used did not refer to the doctrine of trinity rather it was simply used to denote a group of 3 and this I believe was also the case with Uriah Smith.

“When Christ entered within the heavenly gates, He was enthroned, amid the songs of millions of angels. As soon as this ceremony was completed, the Holy Spirit descended upon His followers in rich currents according to Christ’s promise, and they were no more orphans. How quickly Christ fulfilled His promise, and sent from the heavenly courts the guarantee of His love! After His inauguration, the Spirit came and Christ was indeed glorified, even with the glory which He had from all eternity with the Father. During His humiliation upon this earth, the Spirit had not descended with all its EFFICACY; and Christ declared that if He went not away, it would not come, but that if He went away, He would send it. It was a representation of Himself, and after He was glorified it was manifest. {ST, May 17, 1899 par. 3}”

So the point here, considering what position he clearly held with regard to the doctrine of Trinity, when Uriah Smith wrote of the name of the Holy Spirit being found in the baptismal formula as his reason for it to “properly stand as a part of the same trinity in the hymn of praise”, he was talking about a trinity (a group of three) in the context of a song. He was not in anyway endorsing the doctrine of trinity.

Just as a precaution, if you come across the term, “trinity”, you should always ask the question, “Does the term, given the context, (taking into account the author’s body of work holistically) actually convey the same ideas contained in the “doctrine of the trinity” as it is understood by the modern usage of the term or does it mean something else?” What you will discover, on more than a few incidences, (especially prior to 1930s within Adventist publications) that it does not mean the same. Even in the cases where the term was used to designate the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit; the term doesn’t necessarily convey such ideas that would negate the ontological pre-incarnate Sonship of Christ, nor does it substantiate the idea that the Holy Spirit is a separate individual who is one of the “persons” of the triune godhead, or that “God” is defined as “a unity of three coeternal Persons”, etc.

I would encourage you to do your own research and do not readily assume something based on a statement that is taken out of context or portions omitted for deceptive polemical purposes.

As to the, “DOES NOT THE LAST LINE OF THE DOXOLOGY [Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost] CONTAIN AN UNSCRIPTURAL SENTIMENT?” The original source does not show Smith giving sufficient response to this particular enquiry (perhaps as it relate to the Trinity doctrine) other than a simple reference to the baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19.

But for those who would like more information on the issue of doxology as it related to trinity, click here:

James White, George Butler, Uriah Smith and Ellen White on the Doxology – By Jason Smith

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25 Responses

  1. Matthew 28:19
    JESUS SAID: "… baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit … ". Not just in His name. Jesus understands his Triune Being … why don’t you?

    Jesus is perfect – it is clear that He wants you to say what He said in baptism – are you saying Jesus is wrong?

    1. While Jesus commisioned them to baptize in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit, how is it that none of the disciples baptized that way?

    2. Here is what Mark and Luke had to say about the same event.
      Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
      16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

      Luke 24:47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

      Here is what Peter said when baptizing in the book of Acts. Nowhere in the Bible does it show anyone being baptized according to Matthew 28:19,20.

      Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

      In the SDA commentary and even the Roman Catholics acknowledge that this verse has been added. Only one manuscript out of 113 has that verse in it.

      Have a blessed day brother !!!

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