Believing in Jesus as the only true God.

As the agitation between SDA trintiarians and SDA non/anti-trintiarians continues the following quote has become a matter of contention.

“They say, “I was a heathen in heathen lands. You left your friends and comfortable homes and came to teach me how to find Jesus and believe in Him as the only true God {11LtMs, Ms 25, 1896, par. 34}

SDA trinitarians use this quote as a proof text. They interpret the “as” above as if it read “that He is” thus making the sentence mean:

…to find Jesus and believe in Him [that He is] the only true God.”

Thus this quote becomes a proof of trinitarianism because it supposedly teaches that Jesus is the only true God.

SDA anti/non-trinitarians object to this interpretation, believing that it violates the greater light of Scripture, specifically John 17:3

And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent (John 17:3)

This Bible verse appears to distinguish “the only true God” from “Jesus Christ,” the One sent by Him. We will return to this point later.

Now some even claim that Mrs. White violated the Scriptures (if that is your genuine belief then label her a false prophet and stop quoting her altogether). By her own standard that is the course you should take.

Others label the Egw quote in question as spurious. To that latter claim I would note that the evidence supports its historicity. Mrs. White published this quote about believing in Jesus “as the only true God” three times. You can see this for yourself in Testimonies for the Church Vol. 6 pg 311.1 [1901], again in Review and Herald, January 5th, 1905, par. 13 and finally one last time in Gospel Workers pg 518.2 [1915]

As an aside, I have included the Gospel Workers publication as being done by Mrs. White even though it was reported “just off the press” in October 1915 [see Northern Union Reaper, October 5, 1915] and Mrs. White herself died on July 16th, 1915. This inclusion is justified because, as W.C. White reported, she personally oversaw the production.

Nearly two years ago she began reading manuscripts that have seen been forwarded to the printers for the forthcoming reprinted edition of ‘Gospel Workers.’ She has taken much delight in reviewing the manuscripts written in former years for the encouragement and help of our faithful workers, and in preparing this matter for republication in convenient form, in harmony with urgent requests from many brethren in the ministry.” (Field Tidings, March 3, 1915)

Thus the weight of evidence is against those who claim that this Egw quote is spurious. This argument appears to rest on the strength of their theological bias and is reactionary to the usage made of this quote by the trinitarian brethren. It is wishful thinking rather than evidence based.

As someone who stands between the two parties (at least that is the position I perceive myself to have; others seem to strongly disagree and categorize me differently) I believe it is important to take a balanced approach. So let’s look at this quote in its immediate and greater literary context. After accomplishing this exegesis of the Testimony of Jesus via Ellen White we will then look at God’s Word.

If we turn back several paragraphs in Manuscript 25, 1896 we will see an important concept that Mrs. White used at times in connection with both satan and God. It is the concept of personification. Let’s read for ourselves.

…Satan has usurped the title as god of this world. He is not thus only as man shall choose him to be thus. {11LtMs, Ms 25, 1896, par. 16}

He was represented as Barabbas when placed beside Jesus, who made the world and all things that are therein. The opportunity was given to man to choose “whom shall I release unto you, Barabbas or Christ?”[Matthew 27:17] The roar of voices was like wild beasts: “Barabbas, Barabbas, Release unto us Barabbas.” [Luke 23:18] Here was Satan personified, chosen before Christ, the Son of God. What exaltation had Satan on that occasion! What exaltation he had on every such occasion. {11LtMs, Ms 25, 1896, par. 17}

Here we see her contention that satan has usurped the title of god of this world. She notes that he is not really this but man can choose him to be it. She then notes that he (satan) was represented “as” Barabbas and that “here” [that is in Barabbas] satan “was personified.” No one in their right mind will take the phrase “he [satan] was represented as Barabbas” and conclude that Barabbas was therefore actually satan.

In Mrs. White’s day the word “as” meant “like; even; similar.” Here is the 1828 dictionary:

“AS, adverb az. [Gr. But more probably the English word is contracted from als.]

1. Literally, like; even; similar. ‘Ye shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.’ ‘As far as we can see, ‘ that is, like far, equally far. Hence it may be explained by in like manner; as do as you are commanded. [End Quote]

So Barabbas, being placed next to Jesus, became a personification of satan. To choose him, in that context, was the same “as” choosing satan because he was the agent of personification. I hope this is clear. We will return to this issue of personification shortly. The context of her article continues on to speak about the use of resources. Then we come to the more immediate literary context. She is now speaking about the gratitude of the redeemed who will understand the investment made in them by others.

What will be the gratitude of souls that shall meet us in the heavenly courts as they understand the interest and sympathy and love which has been revealed for their souls? They felt the burden to labor and to invest means to place souls in positions where they could learn the truth, and in their turn became channels of light. Receiving the light from the Word of God they communicated that light to others and became a part of the Lord’s firm, co-partners with Jesus Christ in saving souls ready to perish. While all praise, all honor, and all glory will be given unto God and to the Lamb as our Redeemer, there will be no detracting from the glory of God in expressing gratitude to the instrumentality God has employed for the salvation of the souls ready to perish {11LtMs, Ms 25, 1896, par. 32}

Now let me pause here for a moment to speak briefly about “the Lord’s firm.” This language, about God and Christ as a “firm” actually traces back to James White.

“We may look upon
the Father and the Son before the worlds were made as a creating and law administering firm of equal power.
{James White RH November 29, 1877}

A “firm” means “a partnership or house; or the name or title under which a company transact business” [1828 dictionary]. Ellen White speaks about believers having an abiding sense of being “a part of the heavenly firm” {RH Oct 23, 1900 par. 12}.

She also speaks about believers as being a part of the “divine firm” but here she says we are “junior partners.”

They are junior partners in the divine firm, and as such are to manifest an intense interest in everything that pertains to the salvation of souls. “We are laborers together with God; ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building {9LtMs, Ms 93, 1894, par.6}

Now please stop and think about this. If we are junior partners in the Divine firm what position must the only begotten Son of God have? He must be a senior partner. We might call him the senior or highest representative of this firm but more on this shortly. Let’s go back to the context of the quote in question.

Those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb will meet there, and know, the very ones who called their attention to [the] uplifted Saviour. What blessed converse they have with these souls. “I was a sinner,” say they, “without God, and without hope in the world, and you came to me and drew my attention to the precious Saviour as my only help, and I believed in Him. I repented of my sins and was made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. {11LtMs, Ms 25, 1896, par. 33}

Here we see the redeemed, who were pointed to Jesus by human agency, noting they were “without God and without hope” and they were drawn to Jesus as their “only help” and they “believed in Him.” No one has any objection to these assertions. Let’s keep reading.

And other redeemed ones rejoice as they meet those who have had a burden in their behalf. They say, “I was a heathen in heathen lands. You left your friends and comfortable homes and came to teach me how to find Jesus and believe in Him as the only true God. I demolished my idols and worshiped God, and now I see Him face to face, saved, eternally saved to ever behold Him whom I now love. I then saw Him only by an eye of faith, but now I see Him as He is. I now can express my gratitude to Him who loved me, who gave His own life for me, with a pure, immortal tongue, for His redeeming mercy.” {11LtMs, Ms 25, 1896, par. 34}

Now we see “other redeemed ones” who had been a part of the “heathen in heathen lands.” They are now talking to missionaries who had left their friends and homes to teach them the Gospel. The redeemed from among the heathen say to these missionaries that you taught me “how to find Jesus and believe in Him as the only true God.” The response of the heathen to this instruction was to demolish their idols and worship God, whom they now see face to face. Now just here is where some do have objection.

These heathens are instructed to “believe in Him [Jesus] as the only true God.” This sounds heretical to some but this is clearly a positive endorsement by Mrs. White because she is putting these words in the mouths of the saved. In other words this is a salvific message! So what should we say to these things?

To this reader it is apparent that Jesus is somehow to be believed in “as” the only true God.

At this juncture we return back to the previous point we saw about Barabbas as the personification as satan. Remember satan “was represented as Barabbas.” Now satan is an angelic being while Barabbas is an human being yet the circumstances made it so that one was as the other, in fact, to such a degree that by choosing Barabbas the people actually chose satan as their leader. Is it possible that Jesus Himself is represented as the only true God? What else does Mrs. White have to say about this?

But the Sun of Righteousness shines forth into the midnight darkness of superstition and error, and rolls back the cloud, and presents himself as the one in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, as the exact representation of the Father. This is his message to the world: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” {ST June 27, 1892, par. 4}

Christ’s oneness with the Father was a constant joy to God; for He knew that there was in the world one who would not misrepresent Him. In Christ He beheld the reflection of His own character…. {19LtMs, Lt 317, 1904, par. 6}

Jesus came to teach men of the Father, to correctly represent him before the fallen children of earth. Angels could not fully portray the character of God, but Christ, who was a living impersonation of God, could not fail to accomplish the work.” {ST, January 20, 1890, par. 6}

By rejecting the Son of God, the personification of the only true God, who possessed goodness, mercy, and untiring love, whose heart was ever touched with human woe, and choosing a murderer in his stead, the Jews showed what human nature can and will do when the restraining power of the Spirit of God is removed, and men are under the control of the apostate. Those who choose Satan as their ruler will reveal the spirit of their chosen master. {RH January 30, 1900, Art. A, par. 6}

I believe these quotes show us how we, as believers, are to believe in Jesus as the only true God. It is by His personification, His exact representation, His living impersonation. And it is important that we note that, unlike satan and Barabbas, we are dealing with Two Beings who share the same Divine nature inherently. We must remember that the Son of God is “a part of [God] Himself.” He is “the brightness of the Father’s glory” {6LtMs, Lt36a, 1890, par.11} We are dealing with a Son “in whom dwellers all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” and who could therefore “fully portray the character of God.” This is an oneness that is perfect.

He was in such perfect oneness with God that His voice came with authority, as the voice of God from the center of glory {11LtMs, Ms 8, 1896, par. 4}

By the way did you catch it? Jesus’ voice, due to His perfect oneness with God, was “as” the voice of God from the center of glory.

Now with all of that said let’s now turn to the greater light of God’s Word.

And this is life eternal, that they m
ight know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent
(John 17:3)

I believe all readers can see that Jesus has just defined what eternal life is. It is knowing the Father through the Son. The previous verses reveal a parallelism.

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee 2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent (John 17:1-3)

Thus we can see:

A) The Father
A) the only true God

The Son
Jesus Christ

Now there are several points that I feel obliged to make here.

The first is that there seem to be quite a few who turn John 17:3 into a matter of intellectual knowledge. It is primarily a verse about ontology in their eyes. They seem to believe that salvation is defined, by this verse, as an intellectual assent to the reality of God the Father having a pre-incarnate only begotten Son who is excluded from being the only true God. And if anyone thinks differently then they are lost. To this definition I disagree. If that were salvation then, arguably, satan and the fallen angels are all saved because they know these things, arguably even better than humans do.

I believe the better interpretation of John 17:3 is that we are dealing with knowledge as in intimacy – knowing the character of God the Father by means of His Son Jesus. There are many Adventists, who do not know or are very confused about the pre-incarnate Fatherhood and Sonship of God and Christ. And in all fairness it is a difficult subject. There are two lines of data that seem to be in contradiction of each other and inspiration never resolves the dilemma. Yet these SDAS do know and believe that God is the Father of the incarnated Christ. They perceive God’s loving character in the person of His Son. They manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Do we dare say that they are not saved? For certain SDA anti/non-trintiarians to argue that they are lost because they do not perceive the Father/Son relationship prior to the incarnation is an argument I cannot make in good conscience.

My second point here is that this verse has the conjunction “and” [Gr: kai]. When we look at the Bible holistically this “and” is absolutely essential, even inseparable.

Egw tells us that “the special work of satan has been to separate the Father and the Son” {25LtMS, Ms 69, 1912, par. 44}. Contextually she was speaking of his post-Calvary attacks against the Father and Son by making it seem like the law and gospel conflict. Yet we know that he did this in heaven above too when he declared “he cannot submit to be under Christ’s command, that God’s commands alone will he obey” {3SG 37.3}. Thus the “and” of John 17:3 is absolutely essential here. We should fear to separate Them. The Bible is very clear that the Father cannot be known except that the Son reveal Him.

All things are delivered to Me of My Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him (Luke 10:22)

This revelation of God the Father is through mutual indwelling and the Son’s corresponding personification of Him. Hence the statement of Jesus to His disciples and response to Philip:

If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also: and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him.8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father 10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself: but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works (John 14:7-10)

The mutual indwelling, presented above, is one of the reasons why I have difficulty with SDA tritheists who really seem to make the God the Father, His only begotten Son, and holy Spirit into 3 completely separate God Beings but I digress. The salient point for our purpose here is that the knowledge that John 17:3 speaks about must be understood as knowledge that is through the Son. When we focus primarily on the ontological distinction between Jesus, the Sent One, and God the Father, the only true God, I believe we are somewhat obscuring the exegetical intent of the Scripture.

And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life (1 John 5:20)

Now there is some ambiguity here in the Greek. Normally the pronoun, in Greek, refers back to the closest antecedent. If that is the case here then Jesus is being called the true God by the pronoun “houtous” (translated as ‘this” by the Kjv). However, the previous clauses that speak of “Him that is true” are clearly referring to God the Father as the clause “even in His Son Jesus Christ” show.

Personally, I suspect this ambiguity might be purposeful. The true God and eternal life cannot be separated. And the means whereby we are in the true God is by means of the person who is a part of Himself, His only begotten Son. Thus there is a way, or sense, in which it is appropriate to refer to the Son of God as truly God.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)

That eternal life, which was with the Father, is a person, even His only begotten Son. In my thinking this is almost like Adam and Eve, who are both called Adam, by the way (Gen 5:2). There are two simultaneous ways of looking at them but there is only one way of life through them. Adam and Eve are two separate bodies of flesh, she being made from one of his ribs (Gen 2:21, 22). In this sense there is one named Adam, the man, and the other named Eve, the woman. The separation in form and gender is apparent by looking at and experiencing interaction with them. Yet in terms of procreation, that is life coming into being through them, the two are one flesh (Gen 2:24).
The very existence of humanity, in relationship back to Adam, the father of all humanity, can never be understood apart from the other Adam, the one named Eve who is the mother of all humanity. Thus all human relationship, speaking in terms our existence, can never be rightly conceived of without including both Adam “and” Eve. Yes, the man Adam is the only true (or original) Adam but he is not the source of all humanity apart from his wife Eve.

This is the lens though which I understand God the Father, as the only true God, yet, at the same time, can never separate His Son from Him. God the Father would not exist to us, because we would not exist, without His Son as the conduit of life. Thus we can never get rid of the “and” in this respect. So, yes, there is a sense in which the Father alone is the only true God. That is the sense of Him being the Source and supreme authority. You could look and see the Father and Son as separate tangible Beings, the Son being made of the Father’s substance, Their separation of form and personality is apparent by looking and experiencing interaction with Them. Yet, at the very same time, when it comes to life, there is only one way that includes the Both of Them. The Two have an oneness that we cannot fully fathom or explain. If you look at all of the ways that the Bible and SOP describe this oneness it should create an empathy for trinitarians because the truth appears to be close to their belief in many respects (e.g. one in life, one in spirit, one in heart, one in mind, one in character, one in purpose, one in nature, one in substance,….)

So what is the conclusion of the whole matter? Let’s hear it:

1) We should have no objection to a belief in Jesus as the only true God. There is a sense in which this is true. As the Son of the infinite God, He is truly God in infinity, being a part of God Himself, and His personification of the only true God is complete and perfect. To see Him is to see the Father, to believe in Him is to believe in the Father, to choose Him is to choose the Father.

2) We should have no objection to a belief that God the Father is the only true God. There is a sense in which the word “God” belongs to Him exclusively (e.g. He is the great Source of all, the Begetter of His Son, the Head of Christ, etc,..). Although the only begotten Son is ontologically equal to the Father, He does not act that way. In the sense of personality the Son is not truly God. No true trinitarian would ever say that, not even about Him in His humanity, but I digress. Yet we know that in His personality, which “did not being with His incarnation” {9LtMs, Lt 77, 1894, par. 9}, He always pointed to the Father as supreme.

3) We should understand and believe that God the Father cannot be related to, as the true and living God, apart from His Son as the conduit of that life. You can never get to the Father, even a true conception of Him as the only true God, without going through the Son. The definition of eternal life comprehends this glorious truth, as infinitely mysterious as it is.

There are light and glory in the truth that Christ was one with the Father before the foundation of the world was laid. This is the light shining in a dark place, making it resplendent with divine, original glory. This truth, infinitely mysterious in itself, explains other mysterious and otherwise unexplainable truths, while it is enshrined in light, unapproachable and incomprehensible {RH April 5, 1906, par. 8}

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