Self-Existent

“Self-Existent”

Article by an anonymous contributor, adopted and edited by Paul Chung

“Christ is the pre-existent, self-existent Son of God.... In speaking of his pre-existence, Christ carries the mind back through dateless ages. He assures us that there never was a time when He was not in close fellowship with the eternal God. He to whose voice the Jews were then listening had been with God as one brought up with Him.”—The Signs of the Times, August 29, 1900. {Ev 615.2}

"While God’s Word speaks of the humanity of Christ when upon this earth, it also speaks decidedly regarding His pre-existence. The Word existed as a divine being, even as the eternal Son of God, in union and oneness with His Father. From everlasting He was the Mediator of the covenant, the one in whom all nations of the earth, both Jews and Gentiles, if they accepted Him, were to be blessed. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Before men or angels were created, the Word was with God, and was God.—The Review and Herald, April 5, 1906. {Ev 615.4}

Trinitarian’s objection: “self-existent” and "eternal" means Christ’s life is ingenerate, inherently possessed without origin, and therefore above statements repudiates the doctrine that Christ was begotten in the real sense in some period in the eternity past.

Trinitarian premise:

  • Premise 1: "Eternal" means without beginning. 
  • Premise 2: "Self-existent" means without origin. 
  • Premise 3: Christ is eternal and self-existent.
  • Conclusion: Therefore Christ is without beginning or origin. 

Now, I don't dispute premise 3. Christ IS described as both "eternal" and "self-existent". However, I dispute how the terms are qualified in the first two premises. First of all, "eternal" is a word that does not necessary mean without beginning. It is more accurately defined as immeasurable. Click HERE for further study on eternity.

Beyond that, Christ is described as being before all things for He created all things. That means His existence predates any act of creation. As for the second term, it is not a BIBLICAL term, but rather is a term we find in Ellen White's writing. 

The official Adventist teaching is that the three Persons are each independently self-existent. They are each their own independent source of life. Adventist Trinitarianism emphasizes on each member of the Trinity being “self-existent.” Dr. Woodrow Whidden defines that as “a term to describe any being who is divine and whose existence is understood to be not dependent on any other divine being” (The Trinity, p. 19). 

The word "self-existent" is another one of those terms about which much is asserted but little is established. We should also readily include "self-existing" as a synonym to this. 

Ellen White's entire usage is very limited. First, let us examine the instances she uses these terms of the Father:

“He "shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne." Not now "upon the throne of His glory;" the kingdom of glory has not yet been ushered in. Not until His work as a mediator shall be ended will God "GIVE UNTO HIM THE THRONE of His father David," a kingdom of which "there shall be no end." Luke 1:32, 33. AS A PRIEST, CHRIST IS NOW SET DOWN WITH THE FATHER IN HIS THRONE. Revelation 3:21. Upon the throne WITH the eternal, SELF–EXISTENT ONE is He who "hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows," who "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin," that He might be "able to succor them that are tempted." "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father." Isaiah 53:4; Hebrews 4:15; 2:18; 1 John 2:1. His intercession is that of a pierced and broken body, of a spotless life. The wounded hands, the pierced side, the marred feet, plead for fallen man, whose redemption was purchased at such infinite cost.” {GC 416.3} 

Note: In this statement, Christ is "WITH the eternal, self existent One". This statement also indicates that Christ sits on the Father’s throne with Him. There are the only two beings that are ever presented in Scripture to be sitting on the throne. 

“In the creation of man was manifest the agency of a personal God. When God had made man in His image, the human form was perfect in all its arrangements, but it was without life. Then a personal, SELF-EXISTING God breathed into that form the breath of life, and man became a living, intelligent being. All parts of the human organism were set in action. The heart, the arteries, the veins, the tongue, the hands, the feet, the senses, the faculties of the mind, all began their work, and all were placed under law. Man became a living soul. THROUGH CHRIST THE WORD, a personal God created man and endowed him with intelligence and power.” {MH 415; also in 8T 246} 

“There are many issues in our world today in regard to the Creator not being a personal God. God is a being, and man was made in His image. After God created man in His image, the form was perfect in all its arrangements, but it had no vitality. Then a personal, SELF-EXISTING GOD breathed into that form the breath of life, and man became a living, breathing, intelligent being. All parts of the human machinery were put in motion. The heart, the arteries, the veins, the tongue, the hands, the feet, the perceptions of the mind, the senses, were placed under physical law. It was then that man became a living soul.
THROUGH Jesus Christ, God—NOT A PERFUME, NOT SOMETHING INTENGIBLE, but a personal God—created man and endowed him with intelligence and power. It is God that thundereth in the heavens. His voice reacheth to the ends of the earth. He holdeth the winds in His hands. He sendeth lightnings with rain. He looketh on the earth and it trembleth; He toucheth the hills, and they smoke. He melteth the mountains like wax at His presence. He maketh the outgoings of the morning and the evening to rejoice. He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good.” {Ms117-1898} 

Note: In this use, God is said to have created "THROUGH Christ the Word". Here we see the quantitative difference between "God" and "Christ" that is so prevalent throughout Scripture and inspiration. We also see that Ellen White is highlighting that God is not an essence "not a perfume, not something intangible". Ellen White's concept of heavenly trio was that the Father and Son have tangible forms, but she was clear that the Spirit did not...

“The King of the universe summoned the heavenly hosts before Him, that in their presence He might set forth the true position of His Son and show the relation He sustained to all created beings. THE SON OF GOD SHARED the Father's throne, and the glory of the eternal, SELF-EXISTENT ONE encircled both. About the throne gathered the holy angels, a vast, unnumbered throng--"ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" (Revelation 5:11.), the most exalted angels, as ministers and subjects, rejoicing in the light that fell upon them from the presence of the Deity. Before the assembled inhabitants of heaven the King declared that NONE BUT CHRIST, the ONLY BEGOTTEN OF GOD, could fully enter into His purposes, and to Him it was committed to execute the mighty counsels of His will. The Son of God had wrought the Father's will in the creation of all the hosts of heaven; and to Him, as well as to God, their homage and allegiance were due. Christ was still to exercise divine power, in the creation of the earth and its inhabitants. But in all this He would not seek power or exaltation for Himself contrary to God's plan, but would exalt the Father's glory and execute His purposes of beneficence and love.” {PP 36.2} 

Note: Here, once again we see the quantitative distinction between "God" and "Christ", that Christ SHARED the throne with the Father and that Christ is at this point in time before the creation of earth "the Only Begotten of God". This is a peculiar modification that shows Ellen White is not simply enslaved to the language of the KJV, which never uses these precise words, "only begotten Son" or "only begotten of the Father". As an aside, she also modifies this in one place as "Only Begotten FROM the Father" within a quote of John 1:14 (DA 24). The glory of the Father is said to encircle them both in this statement.

“Jehovah, the eternal, SELF-EXISTENT, uncreated One, Himself the SOURCE and Sustainer OF ALL, is alone entitled to SUPREME reverence and worship. Man is forbidden to give to any other object the first place in his affections or his service. Whatever we cherish that tends to lessen our love for God or to interfere with the service due Him, of that do we make a god.” {PP 305.4}

Note: The Bible shows that Christ Himself gives reverence to the Father, and that the Father is the "God" of Christ (Jn 20:17). Ellen White also states that the Father is the "great Source of all" (DA 21). I believe that the first commandment refers to not having anyone in place of God the Father. The Second commandment refers to not having anything in place of Christ the express image of the Father. 

God desires His people to look to Him for guidance, that they may be led by His Spirit. He is the eternal, SELF-EXISTENT SOURCE OF ALL life, physical and spiritual. {Lt19-1901} 

Note: Again, as with the above. Christ is the mediatorial Source just as He is the mediatorial I AM ("Christ is the wisdom of God. He is the great "I AM" TO THE WORLD"; ST, December 12, 1895) and was GIVEN the name Jehovah (“Jehovah is the name GIVEN TO CHRIST” ST May 3, 1899, par. 18).

“In every case, clear, powerful light has been given that God is the eternal, self-existent One. From my girlhood I have been given plain instruction that GOD IS A PERSON, and that Christ is “the express image of His person.” GOD ALWAYS HAS BEEN. That which concerns us is not the how or the wherefore.” {Ms137-1903} 

Note: This statement speaks of GOD as always having been. Never does she use a similar expression of Christ. This statement references her earliest revelations that God is tangible like Christ. 

Now let us look at the usage applied to the Son... we still don't have a precise meaning for "self-existent" or "self-existing" at this time, we have only been able to make observations from the context. One other observation of usage is that it is often used in the phrase "eternal, self-existent" as well as "personal, self-existing". Once it is used in the series "eternal, self-existent, uncreated". This MAY imply the idea that "self-existent" means "without beginning", but it is not certain as a series of attributes can often signify different meanings.

Here are the instances where she applies "self-existent" to Christ:

“Silence fell upon the vast assembly. The NAME OF GOD, given to Moses to express the idea of the ETERNAL PRESENCE, had been CLAIMED AS HIS OWN by this Galilean Rabbi. He had announced Himself to be the SELF-EXISTENT One, He who had been promised to Israel, "whose goings forth have been from of old, from the days of eternity." Micah 5:2, margin.” {DA 469.5} 

Note: This name was here "claimed" as Christ's Own, but it does not say HOW it was His Own. It has been pointed out that elsewhere Ellen White says this name was "given" to Christ. Interestingly, she quotes the margin of Micah 5:2. This is overlooked in its significance. The Hebrew translated "goings forth" signifies "origin" and is often translated in this sense. 

"Before Abraham was, I am." Christ is the PRE-EXISTENT, SELF-EXISTENT SON OF GOD. The message He gave to Moses to give to the children of Israel was, "Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you." The prophet Micah writes of Him, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, tho 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 everlasting." {ST, August 29, 1900 par. 13} 

Note: Again as with the above, this is a similar usage in a similar context. Here she connects "pre-existent" with "self-existent" as a series of attributes. It is important that He is a "PRE-EXISTENT... SON". He didn't simply become a Son at the incarnation. This is denied in any real sense by those who make all such statements anticipatory (Some claim that the title, “Son of God” is merely a salvific title which Christ assumed as in prolepsis, in an anticipation of future fulfillment-not unlike the title, “Lamb of God”; Christ was CALLED the Son of God because He WILL become the Son of God through a virgin birth, etc. but not a real Son in His pre-existence). Ellen White elsewhere wrote that when He came to earth He gained the title "Son of God" in "a new sense". {5BC 1114.10} If Christ was merely fulfilling the anticipation of the incarnation, then He wasn't becoming the Son in "a new sense". Only if Christ was truly a Son in a pre-existent sense could He later obtain this title in "a new sense". 

These are wonderfully solemn and significant statements. It was the SOURCE OF ALL MERCY AND PARDON, peace and grace, the SELF-EXISTENT, eternal, unchangeable One, who visited His exiled servant on the Isle that is called Patmos. {Ms81-1900} 

Note: Here we see that Christ is in a mediatorial sense the "Source of all", specifically of "mercy", "pardon", "peace" and "grace". This is reconciliation language which was accomplished through Christ. 

“Not one of the angels could have become surety for the human race: their life is God's; they could not surrender it. The angels all wear the yoke of obedience. They are the appointed messengers of Him who is the commander of all heaven. But Christ is equal with God, infinite and omnipotent. He could pay the ransom for man's freedom. He is the eternal, SELF-EXISTING Son, on whom no yoke had come; and when God asked, "Whom shall I send?" he could reply, "Here am I; send me." He could pledge himself to become man's surety; for he could say that which the highest angel could not say,--I have power over my own life, "power to lay it down, and . . . power to take it again." {YI, June 21, 1900 par. 2} 

“No one of the angels could become a substitute and surety for the human race, for their life is God’s; they could not surrender it. On Christ alone the human family depended for their existence. He is the eternal, SELF-EXISTENT Son, on whom no yoke had come. When God asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Christ alone of the angelic host could reply, “Here am I; send Me.” He alone had covenanted before the foundation of the world to become a surety for man. He could say that which not the highest angel could say—“I have power over my own life. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” {Ms101-1897} 

Note: Here, in two very similar statements Ellen White uses two slightly different words. In one she calls Christ the "eternal, self-EXISTING Son" and in the other she calls Christ the "eternal self-EXISTENT. This begins to narrow the nuance of Ellen White's meaning. I have a suspicion we might see more of this as we explore the final category of usage.

There are two more statements we need to look at which will give us the full sense of the word "self-existent" as Ellen White used it. 

"There is much talk of the Lord in nature, as if God were bound by the laws of nature to be nature’s servant. Do men know what they are talking about? Do they suppose that nature has a SELF EXISTENT POWER WITHOUT THE CONTINUAL AGENCY OF THE FATHER? Many theories would lead minds to suppose that nature was a SELF-SUSTAINING AGENCY APART FROM DEITY, having its OWN INHERENT POWER with which to work. But the Lord does not exert His laws to supersede the laws of nature. He does His work through the laws and the properties of His instruments, and nature obeys a 'thus saith the Lord.' 
The God of nature is PERPETUALLY AT WORK. His INFINITE POWER works unseen, but manifestations appear in the effects which the work produces. The same God who guides the planets works in the fruit orchard and the vegetable garden. He never made one thorn, one thistle or tare. These are Satan’s productions, which he plants among the precious things. It is THROUGH GOD'S IMMEDIATE AGENCY that every bud bursts into blossom. When He was in the world, in the form of humanity, Christ said, 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.'" {Ms115-1898} 

"There is much talk about the Lord in nature, as if God were bound by the laws of nature to be nature’s servant. In this men do not know what they are talking about. Do they suppose that nature has a SELF-EXISTING POWER WITHOUT THE CONTINUAL AGENCY OF JEHOVAH? Many theories would lead minds to suppose that nature was A SELF-SUSTAINING AGENCY APART FROM DEITY, having its OWN INHERENT POWER with which to work. The Lord does not exert His laws to supersede the laws of nature. He does His work through the laws and the properties of His instruments, and nature obeys a 'Thus saith the Lord.' 
The God of nature is PERPETUALLY AT WORK. His INFINITE POWER works unseen, but manifestations appear in the effects which the work produces. The same God who guides the planets works in the fruit orchard and in the vegetable garden. He never made a thorn, a thistle, or a tare. These are Satan’s work, the result of degeneration, introduced by him among the precious things. It is THROUGH GOD'S IMMEDIATE AGENCY that every bud bursts into blossom. When He was in the world in the form of humanity, Christ said, 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.'" {Ms170-1899} 

Note: These two statements pack a lot of punch when it comes to fleshing out the "meaning" of "self-existent". We have already been given a clue in a previous instant where Ellen White alternates "self-existent' and "self-existing" in the same contextual statement in two different locations. Here we see the same phenomenon. Self-existing is a more focused nuance than the broader "self-existent". While "self-existent" could pertain to EITHER origin OR continuance, "self-existing" is decidedly a term referring to a PRESENT PROCESS.  This is further born out by an additional synonym used in both instances "self-sustaining".

It is clear from these three terms that Ellen White is referring to the present quality of natures existence, not to the origin of nature. We see further expressions like "continual agency" of Jehovah/the Father, "agency apart from deity". Ellen White affirms contrary to the idea of nature's self-existence that God is "perpetually at work" with His "infinite power" and that the laws of nature operate "through God's immediate agency".

It is clear that we can now define "self-existent" or "self-existing" as Ellen White used the terms. To be "self-existent" is to continue to exist without extrinsic sustaining; to be self-sustaining. Thus God the Father is self-existent - relies upon no other for His PRESENT existence. Christ is self-existent - relies upon no other for His PRESENT existence.

Nature is not self-existent for it relies upon God and Christ for its continued PRESENT existence:

“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and UPHOLDING ALL THINGS by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:” (Heb. 1:3)

“Upon all created things is seen the impress of the Deity. Nature testifies of God. The susceptible mind, brought in contact with the miracle and mystery of the universe, cannot but recognize the working of infinite power. NOT BY ITS OWN INHERINT ENERGY does the earth produce its bounties, and year by year continue its motion around the sun. AN UNSEEN HAND GUIDES THE PLANETS in their circuit of the heavens. A mysterious life pervades all nature--A LIFE THAT SUSTAINS the unnumbered worlds throughout immensity, that lives in the insect atom which floats in the summer breeze, that wings the flight of the swallow and feeds the young ravens which cry, that brings the bud to blossom and the flower to fruit. {Ed 99.1}

The SAME POWER THAT UPHOLDS NATURE, IS WORKING ALSO IN MAN. The same great laws that guide alike the star and the atom control human life. The laws that govern the heart's action, regulating the flow of the current of life to the body, are the laws of the mighty Intelligence that has the jurisdiction of the soul. FROM HIM ALL LIFE PROCEEDS. Only in harmony with Him can be found its true sphere of action. FOR ALL THE OBJECT OF HIS CREATION THE CONDITION IS THE SAME—A LIFE SUSTAINED BY RECEIVING THE LIFE OF GOD, a life exercised in harmony with the Creator's will. To transgress His law, physical, mental, or moral, is to place one's self out of harmony with the universe, to introduce discord, anarchy, ruin.” {Ed 99.2}  

“The youth need to understand the deep truth underlying the Bible statement that with God ‘is the fountain of life.’ Not only is He the originator of all, but HE IS THE LIFE OF EVERYTHING THAT LIVES. It is His life that we receive in the sunshine, in the pure, sweet air, in the food which builds up our bodies and sustains our strength. IT IS BY HIS LIFE THAT WE EXIST, HOUR BY HOUR, MOMENT BY MOMENT. Except as perverted by sin, all His gifts tend to life, to health and joy.”  {FLB 164.3 Ellen White}

“Many teach that matter possesses vital power. They hold that certain properties are imparted to matter, and it is then LEFT TO ACT THROUGH ITS OWN INHERENT POWER; and that the operations of nature are carried on in harmony with fixed laws, that God himself cannot interfere with. THIS IS FALSE SCIENCE, and is sustained by nothing in the word of God. NATURE IS NOT SELF-ACTING; she is the servant of her Creator. God does not annul his laws nor work contrary to them; but he is continually using them as his instruments. Nature testifies of an intelligence, a presence, an active agency, that works in, and through, and above her laws. THERE IS IN NATURE THE CONTINUAL WORKING OF THE FATHER AND THE SON. Said Christ, ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ ”  {HL 290.1}

“God has finished his creative work, but HIS ENERGY IS STILL EXERTED IN UPHOLDING THE OBJECTS OF HIS CREATION. It is not because the mechanism that was once been set in motion continues its work by its own inherent energy that the pulse beats, and breath follows breath; but every breath, every pulsation of the heart, is an evidence of the all-pervading care of Him in whom we live and have our being. It is not because of inherent power that year by year the earth produces her bounties, and continues her motion around the sun. The hand of God guides the planets, and keeps them in position in their orderly march through the heavens. IT IS THROUGH HIS POWER that vegetation flourishes, that the leaves appear and the flowers bloom. HIS WORD CONTROLS THE ELEMENTS, and by him the valleys are made fruitful.”--S. of T., 1884, No. 12.  {HL 290.2} 

“The mechanism of the human body cannot be fully understood; it presents mysteries that baffle the most intelligent. It is not as the result of a mechanism, which, once set in motion, continues its work, that the pulse beats and breath follows breath. IN GOD WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING. The beating heart, the throbbing pulse, every nerve and muscle in the living organism, is kept in order and activity BY THE POWER OF AN EVER-PRESENT GOD. 

Note: The above statements reveal that all of creation does not sustain itself or we can say they are not "self-existent" they do not have the inherent power that would but are dependent on God to continually. 

Therefore, self-existence has nothing to do with the eternality of Gods Son, it is simply stating that the quality of life that the Father has the Son has also, for the Father gave this self-existent life to His Son by virtue of His begottenness, just as my son has mortal dependent life by virtue of his begottenness to me

For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself
— John 5:26

So, yes Jesus is self-existent in that He is not dependent on His Father for continuation of His life for "as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.

The next list of quotes is all from E.J. Waggoner:

  • “Life and immortality are imparted to the faithful followers of God, but Christ alone shares with the Father the power to impart life. He has “life in himself ,” that is, he is able to perpetuate his own existence.” (E. J. Waggoner. Signs of the Times, March 25th 1889, article ‘The Divinity of Christ’)
  • “Christ ‘is [sic] in the bosom of the Father;’ being by nature of the very substance of God, and having life in Himself, He is properly called Jehovah, the self-existent One, and is thus styled in Jer. 23:56, where it is said that the righteous Branch, who shall execute judgment and justice in the earth, shall be known by the name of Jehovah-tsidekenu—THE LORD, OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Christ and His Righteousness. p23,24. 1890. E J Waggoner.)
  • “It will readily be seen that the whole virtue of baptism lies in the self-existent power of Christ,-that He could lay down His life, and take it up again.” {November 28, 1901 EJW, PTUK 757.9}
  • “The second logical and necessary conclusion from the foregoing quotations from the little book, is that each individual cell, and consequently every man, has life as an inherent quality. They teach that man is self-existent, with power to perpetuate his existence, and to evolve good out of his own inherent force; in short, that man is God.” {February 9, 1892 EJW, ARSH 83.11}
  • “That is to say, the almost universal tendency is to eliminate God as Creator, and practically to deify creation, making it self supporting, which in reality means self-existent, although few stop to think that the terms mean the same thing.” {June 20, 1901 EJW, PTUK 385.2}

For further study, check out "Response to there Never Was a Time"