Heavenly Trio in a Nutshell

"Heavenly Trio" in a Nutshell

By Paul Chung

"There are three living persons of the heavenly trio. In the name of these three powers,—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these powers will cooperate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their efforts to live the new life in Christ." {BTS March 1, 1906, par. 2} (The Bible Training School) Click HERE for an original copy.

"There are three living persons of the heavenly trio; in the name of these three great powers—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these powers will co-operate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their efforts to live the new life in Christ...." {SpTB07 63.2} (Testimonies for the Church Containing Messages of Warning and Instruction to Seventh-day Adventists) See pics below.

She published "three living persons" twice in 1906. One was in a periodical (The Bible Training School) and the other in a pamphlet (Testimonies for the Church Containing Messages of Warning and Instruction to Seventh-day Adventists) and four times in subsequent publications. She never published "three living personalities". People today are trying to act as if she did not control her own 1906 publications and are promoting a conspiracy theory that the "three living persons" quote is a corruption. Their theory has no credibility and the evidence is against them. 

 Original typed manuscript of "heavenly trio" used for the Bible Training School publication.

Original typed manuscript of "heavenly trio" used for the Bible Training School publication.

For those who doubt the legitimacy of Ellen White's published writings, please consider the following statements. Ellen White had the oversight. She would always read her articles and books to see that they expressed what she wanted BEFORE they were published. She explains herself: 

"EVERY ARTICLE I prepare to be edited by my workers, I ALWAYS HAVE TO READ MYSELF BEFORE IT IS SENT FOR PUBLICATION... {Lt84-1898.18}
"I READ OVER ALL THAT IS COPIED, TO SEE THAT EVERYTHING IS AS IT SHOULD BE. I READ ALL THE BOOK MANUSCRIPT BEFORE IT IS SENT TO THE PRINTER. So you can see that my time must be fully occupied. Besides writing, I am called upon to speak to the different churches, and to attend important meetings. I could not do this work unless the Lord helped me. {Lt133-1902.4}
"I WISH TO WRITE WORDS THAT SHALL REMOVE FROM THE MINDS OF ANY OF MY BRETHREN THE IMPRESSION THAT I DID NOT, BEFORE THEIR PUBLICATION, READ THE PAGES IN TESTIMONY FOR THE CHURCH, VOL. 9, relating to Sunday labor. {Lt94-1910.1}

This is why she could say, with absolute confidence, that if anyone back then wanted to know her views then they should read her public works instead of heeding hearsay. 

"And now to all who have a desire for truth I would say: Do not give credence to unauthenticated reports as to what Sister White has done or said or written. If you desire to know what the Lord has revealed through her, read her published works. Are there any points of interest concerning which she has not written, do not eagerly catch up and report rumors as to what she has said. {5T 696.1}

Thus when people come along and say that EGW did not mean "persons" but "personalities" and that someone altered the publication they are making a claim that is not supported by the facts in anyway. Mrs. White had the oversight of her articles and books and she published this quote TWICE.

An interesting background

Without a doubt, EGW would have known about John Harvey Kellogg's profession (as a trinitarian). Willie White (her son) would have surely told her. The proof of this, I believe, is that when writing against Kellogg's beliefs she condemned illustrations that trinitarians use to describe God as three-in-one. 

A man by the name of W. E. Boardman had written a very popular book called 'The Higher Christian life' 1858 (too much to explain here). In his book he gave illustrations that trinitarians use to support their three-in-one belief. Ellen White, in her testimony against Kellogg ( Ms21-1906.11 ), she quoted Boardman almost word for word but when she came to where Boardman had said that the three personalities were "living persons of the living God" (p. 104)- which is a basic trinitarian confession (not unlike the SDA profession today), she said that they were "living persons of the heavenly trio". The difference is that Boardman‘s is a trinitarian statement (three persons making one God) while Ellen White‘s statement is non-trinitarian. (see pics below)

Ellen White, when quoting Boardman, removed the trinitarianism. This shows (a) she was speaking out against trinitarianism and (b) that she knew what Kellogg was professing. After all, why else would she speak out against these trinitarian sentiments in a testimony against what Kellogg was teaching. It speaks for itself. If you want to read more about this in detail, go to Chapter 27 of the Terry Hill's study, "The Seventh-day Adventist Godhead Debate". I cannot see how this can be refuted. The problem is, the SDA trinitarians use this "three living persons" quote from EGW but they fail to understand the context in which she wrote it. If EGW had been a trinitarian, why did she not just quote Boardman as he wrote it instead of deliberately changing it to "heavenly trio"??? There must be a reason. The reason is she did not agree with trinitarianism or Kellogg's profession. 

"persons" vs "personalities"

There are much debates as to the expression "persons" vs "personalities" attached to the "heavenly trio" statement. Many non-trinitarians argue that because Ellen White's original handwriting shows "personalities", that the published writings must have been compromised. The contention, according to (some not all) non-trins is based on the photocopy of her handwriting (often a cropped version) where she had made a notation, "alities" above the phrase, "persons" in the noted paragraph, where the letter "s" at the end of "persons" appears to be crossed out suggesting a correction. The Idea behind the non-trinitarians' objection is that the word, "persons" connote more strongly, the idea of a separate individual being (supporting trinity) whereas the expression, "personalities" should more easily convey the idea of "character of office" or "agency" which do not necessarily have to suggest a separate individual, etc (see attached pic below). The preference for "personalities" in favor of "persons" is a straw-man argument for Ellen White used both expressions in a very similar fashion. This, however, does not negate the fact that both "persons" and "personalities" have range of meanings that needs to be defined clearly based on the context.

Photocopy of Original Ellen G. White's Manuscript in her own handwriting. The blue highlight was added by me for emphasis.

What Ellen White originally wrote was somewhat different than what was published. While the persons/personalities discrepancy is one that is mostly discussed, there is however another notable detail in this handwriting which is overlooked and that is the endorsement of the Matthew 28's three-fold title for baptism while the phrase, "in the name of Jesus Christ to them" is crossed out.

She wrote in her own handwriting (as far as we can tell):

“There are [the] living three persons [the letter 's' appears to be crossed out and 'alities' was added] of the heavenly trio in which every soul repenting of their sins, [ the word 'believing' is crossed out] receiving Christ by a living faith, to them who are baptized [the phrase, 'in the name of Jesus Christ to them' is crossed out] in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost-three high dignified personalities...”

The published words were:

“There are three living persons of the heavenly trio. In the name of these three powers,—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these powers will cooperate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their efforts to live the new life in Christ.”

How do we account for the change in the wording when it was published? All I can say is, it is unknown. We do have the typed manuscript, and based on Ellen White's own testimony, I am more inclined to believe that she approved the manuscript before it was published.

One thing which I find it ironic is that there are many non-trinitarians who advocate the “corrected version” (personalities) but also promote the "baptism by Jesus' name only" while invalidating the Matthew 28’s three fold title baptism (they see the tri-fold title as trinitarian). Yet not a single word is mentioned regarding the crossed out “Jesus Christ” referring to baptism in this statement. Point being, if we are to be consistent, then it is only fair to acknowledge all that is endorsed here in favor of what was corrected.

Moreover, those who advocate the corrected version (personalities) should do well to note how Ellen White used "personalities" in the following statements:

"Christ and God are one, and yet they are distinct personalities. Christ spoke with conscious authority, as one possessing in Himself power that would enable Him to perform His work." {Ms140-1903.44} 
"God had placed upon His Son authority to lay hold of the eternal throne with His divine nature. While Christ stood forth distinct in His own personality, He reflected the luster of the greatness that was His because of His position of honor within the encircling light of the eternal throne, in unity with God."{Ms156-1903.4}
"These words show that God and Christ are two personalities, distinct and separate. The unity for which Christ prays, which is to make believers one with Him, as He is one with the Father, does not destroy the personality of God or the personality of Christ. The believers become sons of God, and the personality of all is preserved." {Lt52-1906.23}

Above statements are just a few examples of how Ellen White used the expression, "personalities" to indicate two separate individuals. I am not saying this to affirm the idea that heavenly trio is a trinitarian statement either way but to show that sometimes non-trinitarians, in their zeal to repudiate trinity hold to an untenable position. 

And should I add to this the multiple times she published that the holy Spirit is the "third Person"?

"Evil had been accumulating for centuries, and could only be restrained and resisted by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the THIRD PERSON of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fulness of divine power. Another spirit must be met; for the essence of evil was working in all ways, and the submission of man to this satanic captivity was amazing. {SpTA10 25.2}
The prince of the power of evil can only be held in check by the power of God in the THIRD PERSON of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. {SpTA10 37.1}
Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the THIRD PERSON of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power... {DA 671.2}
He determined to give His representative, the THIRD PERSON of the Godhead. This gift could not be excelled. He would give all gifts in one, and therefore the divine Spirit, converting, enlightening, sanctifying, would be His donation. {ST December 1, 1898, par. 2}
Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the THIRD PERSON of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fulness of divine power... {RH May 19, 1904, par. 3}
He determined to give his representative, the THIRD PERSON of the Godhead. This gift could not be excelled. He would give all gifts in one, and therefore the divine Spirit, that converting, enlightening and sanctifying power, would be his donation. {SW November 28, 1905, par. 2}
Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the THIRD PERSON of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fulness of divine power.. {RH November 19, 1908, Art. B, par. 5}

So that is twice that SHE published "three living persons" and that is seven times that SHE published "third person." Again, not once did she publish "three living personalities" or "third personality."

Again, sentiments among some non-trinitarians are that, rather than honestly making an effort to reconcile these seemingly contradicting statements, some immediately regard them as corrupted and will resort to some form of conspiracy theory and say that Mrs. White's writings have been tampered with and even make it their personal goal to zealously promote them as such. Unfortunately for some, as soon as Inspiration teaches something that seems to go against one of their cherished positions, they resort to denying particular Testimonies altogether as being contrary to the truth.

I have no doubt that those who are pursuing this course are doing it with all the good intentions to protect the rest of us from error, but it’s my humble opinion that they are doing so to their own detriment and are causing much more harm then actually helping the cause, for what they are really doing is unwittingly or intentionally sowing the seeds of doubt on the Testimonies as a whole and Satan is well pleased with these approaches because he can make void the testimonies by the very means.

The Heavenly Trio-Three Economic Personalities

Below are three views of the trinity:

1. Modalistic Trinitarianism (1 divine being, 3 “MODES” of operation) *Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit are all one being operating in 3 different modes. 

2. Consubstantial Trinitarianism (3 non-corporeal, indivisible-undivided personalities/substance making ONE supreme divine being ) *This is the Catholic/orthodox version; some SDAs adhere to this version.

3. Tritheistic Trinitarianism-(3 independent co-eternal Gods without any ontological relations to each other-Jesus being the 'unbegotten Son', but 3 are united in purpose, thus making one God)  *Most SDA church members adhere to this version of trinity.

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Below is how I understand what Ellen White meant when she wrote, "heavenly trio." I believe this to be the Biblical and Spirit of Prophecy’s view of the personalities of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit:

Heavenly Trio-Three Economic Personalities:

1. There is ONE Sovereign Most High God - the Father “OF whom are all things” (1Cor 8:6)

-Father (Real Father; corporeal, personal divine being-has bodily form and shape; has a local presence i.e. “our Father which art in heaven”-Mt 6:9)

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2. There are Two Equal Divine Beings - the Father and the Son

-Begotten Son (Jesus is the real pre-incarnate Son; corporeal, personal divine being-has a bodily form and shape, has a local presence i.e. “We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens”-Heb 8:1; “BY Whom are all things” -1Cor 8:6)

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3. There are Three Economic Personalities - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

-Holy Spirit (Non corporeal aspect of the Father and Son’s personality-divested of personality of humanity, wherein they are omnipresent)

"The Lord's throne is in heaven" (Psalm 11:4); YET BY HIS SPIRIT HE IS EVERYWHERE PRESENT. He has an intimate knowledge of, and a personal interest in, all the works of His hand. ” { E. G. White, Education , p. 132}

John 14:23 “Jesus answered and said unto him, 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.”

Romans 8:9 “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the SPIRIT OF GOD dwell in you. Now if any man have not the SPIRIT OF CHRIST, he is none of his.”

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The words such as "person" and "personality" in the Spirit of Prophecy have a range of meanings, but two are important to this matter:

1. "Person" and "personality" can refer to a whole being.

2. "Person" and "personality" can refer to an economic office or role.

We may refer to the first of these the "Capital 'P' Person" and the second of these the "lower case 'p' person" definitions. God the Father and Christ are whole beings and thus fit the first of these definitions. But there are three distinct ACTIVITIES of deity. 1) There is what the Father is doing in His immediate locality, 2) what the Son is doing in His immediate locality, and 3) the WORK They are performing (TOGETHER) throughout the universe. These constitute three economic offices or "persons"/"personalities" in the sense of roles.

“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)

When Ellen White speaks of the Spirit as a "distinct personality" she is speaking of the DISTINCT WORK that the Spirit has in contrast to the immediate work of Christ in His physical location in the Heavenly Sanctuary. When she speaks of the Holy Spirit interceding not as Christ intercedes, it is the same individual doing the intercession, but Christ's physical intercession is before the Father, while His Spirit's intercession is on our hearts (His transformative power working through the Word).

1 Timothy 2:5 "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;"

Related articles:

Who is the third person of the Godhead?

Holy Spirit has a Distinct Personality-A Statement re-examined