How Many Persons in the Godhead?

by Terry Hill

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E.G. White, Signs of the Times 19th June 1901:

“Those who unite with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who show by their lives that they are no longer following the course they followed before they united with these divine instrumentalities, will receive wisdom from above. They will not depend upon human wisdom. In order to deal righteously with the world, as members of the royal family, children of the heavenly King, Christians must feel their need of a power which comes only from the heavenly agencies that have pledged themselves to work in man's behalf.”

We need to compare this statement with another that Ellen White made where she said:

“The Son of God was next in authority to the great Lawgiver. He knew that his life alone could be sufficient to ransom fallen man. He was of as much more value than man as his noble, spotless character, and exalted office as commander of all the heavenly host, were above the work of man. He was in the express image of his Father, not in features alone, but in perfection of character “.(Review and Herald 17-12-1872) (2 Vol. SP p9 1877) (1RED. P10 1887-1888).

She also said in Life Sketches page 230 (1880):

"I had often been shown the lovely Jesus, that he is a person. I had 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.' I had often seen that the spiritual view took away the glory of heaven, and that in many minds the throne of David, and the lovely person of Jesus had been burned up by the fire of spiritual interpretation.”

In ‘features’, the Son did look like the Father, yet Ellen White says of them that they were ‘yet little short of being identical’. There was a difference.

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Added section (page 17)

Who or what is then the Holy Spirit? Ellen White said this in 1895:

“Cumbered with humanity Christ could not be in every place personally, therefore it was altogether for their advantage that He should leave them to go to His Father and send the Holy Spirit to be His successor on earth. The Holy Spirit is Himself [Christ], divested of the personality of humanity and independent thereof. He would represent Himself as present in all places by His Holy Spirit.” E.G. White, (Manuscript Releases Volume 14 (No’s 1081-1135) MR No.1084.

Ellen White is saying that the Holy Spirit is Christ Himself without His humanity and independent thereof. For us, this truth may be shrouded with mystery but that is the testimony of scripture. John 14:16-18 says:

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”

In the form of the Comforter (the Holy Spirit), Jesus says that it was He Himself that was coming back to be with His disciples. Jesus also said:

“ … If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him (John 14:23).”

Here Jesus is saying that through the Holy Spirit, both the Father and the Son would come and make their abode with all those who love and trust Him.

Whilst this ‘indwelling’ was not the physical indwelling of the persons of the Father and His Son, it was to be accomplished through the Holy Spirit. That is why the Holy Spirit should not be seen as a person like the Father and Son. As physical persons, the Father and Son do not dwell within us but are now mediating on our behalf in Heaven. It is through the Holy Spirit that this indwelling is accomplished.

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How many persons are there in the Godhead? It depends on how you define the word ‘person’. My studies have brought me to the conclusion that there are two persons, the Father and the Son who are working on my behalf for my salvation. From each of them, the same Spirit shared by them both and also defined as a person is also working for my salvation. With the pioneers, I do not see the Holy Spirit as a person like the Father and Son yet He must be described as a person. We shall better see why in our next section.

Although it can be said then that there are three persons in the Godhead, it would be error to describe these three as defined by any of the trinity concepts that are prevalent today. They are all laced with error. It is much safer just to describe them as defined within the scriptures. That is our only safety. To venture outside of inspiration is always to invite error.

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Terry Hill