The Gospel Herald -- Promoting the fundamentals of the 1888 message.



When the Hebrew Bible was translated into the Septuagint, there was no word for a plural God in the Greek without making the Bible teach polytheism. The translators were stumped, and our centuries-long discussion of the character and nature of the Godhead began.

As a result many theories have been presented to deal with this dilemma of a plural God in one person: Monarchianism, Patripassianism, Sabellianism, Arianism, and Unitarianism, to name a few. This variation in thinking shows that when given a problem, mankind will come up with as many different answers as there are minds working on the problem. Each person is sure he's right and all others are wrong.

The vigorous discussions bouncing around Adventism concerning the nature of the Godhead really have their origin in a misunderstanding of "corporate identity." The original Hebrew language has no problem with God being "One" and "Many" at the same time, without teaching polytheism. The gospel message, from its first revealing in Genesis 3:15, discloses the corporate concept - one woman, one offspring, many generations in time.

To come to a basic understanding of the Godhead, we must first grasp the concept of the Hebrew idea of corporate unity. While this may seem like an oxymoron to the Western mind-set, it is nonetheless the basis for the Old Testament discussions of God. We, in the western world, have a difficult time understanding how One can be Three because we are so individualistically oriented. The solidarity of the human race is nearly beyond our comprehension, so how can we expect to fathom the unique Oneness of the Godhead? But it is essential that we do understand the corporate concept because it is fundamental to every element of the Gospel message.

Extended Personality Concept:

Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, we find the "extended personality" concept. Adam was corporate mankind. When God created him, He breathed into his nostrils the "breath of lives" (plural noun, Genesis 2:7), not just an individual breath for his own personal life, but the "lives" of every person who would ever live on this earth. We are all Adam’s children and corporate body.

As head of a household, an individual was thought to represent the entire family (and even the extended family of brothers, cousins, servants, etc., whoever lived in his immediate environs). An example of this idea is found in Abraham's claim that his steward/servant, Eliezer of Damascus, was his own "flesh" and could therefore be the legal means of begetting an heir (Genesis 15:2).

When Joseph served in Potiphar's house, he was the steward, the "overseer in his house and over all that he had." Everything that needed to be decided about running the household was left to Joseph. "And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and knew not aught he had, save the bread which he did eat." (Genesis 39:5,6). Joseph was Potiphar's authorized representative, and functioned as Potiphar in all things pertaining to the household.

Also, Joseph's brothers discussed the delicate matter of the money in their sacks with Joseph's steward as though they were talking to Joseph personally (Genesis 43:18, 19). To them, the steward was Joseph's representative because he was of Joseph's own household. He stood in the place of Joseph, with authority, when Joseph was not available. This is also seen in the New Testament in Jesus' parable of the "unjust steward."

A man's personality went even beyond the people in his household, extending even to his property. When Elisha sent his servant to the Shunamite's house, he sent him with his personal staff in hand. When Gehazi went ahead of Elisha and the Shunamite woman this piece of personal property represented him (2 Kings 4:29, 31). Elijah's mantel was given as representing Elijah and his power when he worked on this earth (2 Kings 2:13-14). It was recognized by the "sons of the prophets" as the "spirit of Elijah" when Elisha returned to them (2 Kings 2:15).

The whole social unit of a man's house, his personality and property, is demonstrated in Satan's attack on Job. God said you can attack all that is Job's, but you can not kill him. By being able to destroy all his personal property, livestock, servants, and his children, Satan was literally attacking the man, Job.

Hebrew Corporate Concept:

Typical of the corporate unity of thought to the Hebrew mind is the single word "soul" (Hebrew: nephesh). "The soul of the people was much discouraged... Our soul loatheth this light bread" (Numbers 21:4,5). See also the same idea in Numbers 11:6, Isaiah 26:8, Psalm. 33:20, and elsewhere. A large group was thus thought of as a single unit, suffering the same, experiencing life the same, praying for deliverance as a unit. To the Hebrew mind, "I" can equally mean "we" in every sense of the word. They have no problem oscillating their thinking between the plural and singular when talking about corporate personalities.

This same "oneness of personality" idea is used by David when addressing Zadok and Abiathar (2 Samuel 19:11-14). "Ye are my bones and my flesh…And he bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as the heart of one man." And by Daniel, "I prayed unto the Lord and made my confession...We have sinned and have committed iniquity…" (Daniel 9:4, 5).

While there is no concept of a "trinity" in the Hebrew thought of God, there is definitely an understanding of a plural personality as a single corporate unit. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD." (Deuteronomy 6:4). In this verse Moses identifies the true God (YHWH) as a plural entity (elohim), but he uses a singular verb ("is"), then states plainly that YHWH is "one" (Hebrew - echad = united). Although elohim is a plural noun, singular verbs are often used with it. God is both singular and plural at one and the same time.

To the Hebrew mind, these variances cause no problem, but to our Western minds, serious questions arise. Trying to translate the Hebrew into other languages, even close cognates like Aramaic, poses difficulties. Interestingly, Hebrew is the only language that will allow for this apparent dichotomy without bending the rules of grammar. Did God purposely choose the Hebrew language for revealing Himself for this very reason? (Does God do anything without reason?) God specifically chose Abraham, and it is fathomable that He did so because the language Abraham spoke would perfectly express the concepts of the nature of God and His gospel, while the languages of the other pagan nations around him were incapable of doing so.

Other examples of singular/plural words are found in the Hebrew terms "water" and "heaven." In the Hebrew language, water can be a single drop of moisture or the entire ocean; and heaven is a single place where God resides, or the vast expanse of the skies over our heads.

In Numbers 13:28, the literal translation of the Hebrew becomes: "But the people that dwells in the land is powerful, the cities are fortified." (literal translation by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky, Project Genesis, Volume 5, issue 40). Here we see a plural noun ("people") used with a singular verb ("is"), contrasted with a plural noun ("cities") which has a plural verb ("are"). The word "people" is recognized in the Hebrew as a single unit, a corporate entity which "is powerful." The English translation does not read correctly to "proper" grammarians, but the Hebrew mind has no problem with the apparent inconsistent grammar shifts.

New Testament Corporate Concept:

Paul reiterates this idea of a "corporate unity" in the New Testament in his consideration of the two Adams (1 Corinthians 15:21,22,45-47; and Romans 5:12-19). Paul was of the Hebrew mind-set being "an Hebrew of the Hebrews" and "a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee" (Philippians 3:5; Acts 23:6). His thought processes regarding corporate identity would have been the same as we find in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Paul teaches us that what the first Adam did effected the entire human race, because all of humanity was "in him." Just so, what Christ did as the "second Adam," also effected the entire human race, because we were all "in Him" (1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:4-6; Philippians 3:9). Jesus' holy history rewrote our evil history (2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Galatians 2:20), making all the riches of His grace available to us.

Ellen G. White supports this understanding in her writings. The work of Christ was effectual for the entire human race. Christ stood in the place of the sinner, accepted the punishment of the sinner, and justified all men before God. "With His own blood He has signed the emancipation papers of the race." (The Ministry of Healing p 90). "The Saviour has paid the redemption price for every soul. We are not our own; for we are bought with a price." "For every human being, Christ has paid the election price. No one need be lost. All have been redeemed." (SDA Bible Commentary vol. 7 p 944). The life of one Man stood for the lives of the entire human race.

"The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead." (2 Corinthians 5:14). When Christ died on the cross, Paul says "all died." One Man, Jesus Christ, stood for all of humanity. Taking the burden of humanity's sins upon Himself, He took those sins to the cross and died as corporate mankind, thus paying the just penalty for revolting against God.

Once we grasp this corporate concept, whole new vistas are revealed to us concerning the gospel message. Belief in corporate oneness "in Christ" allows us to stretch our minds around the fact that we were in Pilate's courtyard, in the "corporate person" of the "multitude" yelling: "Crucify Him, Crucify Him," and were actively rejecting our only hope of salvation by the action of this mob. We were the Pharisees at the foot of the cross mocking Him to "come down, if you're really God."

"Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." "That prayer of Christ for His enemies embraced the whole world. It took in every sinner that had ever lived or should live, from the beginning of the world to the end of time. Upon all rests the guilt of crucifying the Son of God. To all, forgiveness is freely offered." (Desire of Ages p 745).

Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), author of the poetry for many of our church hymns, experienced this understanding in a dream in which he saw a Roman soldier nailing Jesus to the cross. In this dream Bonar saw himself pulling at the arm of the soldier, trying to stop the crucifixion of the his Lord. When the soldier turned to face him, Bonar saw himself and was horrified at the revelation of his part in the crucifixion. This experience led him to a deeper repentance and consecration to God’s will. His poem, I Lay My sins on Jesus, became a beautiful hymn of repentance and was used in many church hymnals.

"Could humanity have done worse than to insult, reject, and crucify the Majesty of heaven?" (The Home Missionary, December 1, 1894, "Respond to Divine Love"). "That nation which God had declared was a royal nation, a peculiar people, a holy priesthood, Moses heard crying for the blood of Christ. He saw them crucify his Saviour." (Manuscript Releases vol. 10 p 155). We did not need to be present at the foot of Calvary for us to be guilty of crucifying our Lord. We were there as corporate humanity, even as Moses saw Israel in his vision of the crucifixion.

Can We Solve the Mystery?

The premise we begin with necessarily dictates the outcome of our theory. So, where are we to start in deciphering the Godhead "problem"? Perhaps we should first recognize that there is no problem in Scripture! As shown above, the Hebrew language does not demonstrate a problem with a "plural personality" God who is One Being. We make the problem with our unsanctified minds trying to probe the mysteries of God which He has not revealed unto us.

"Do not try to explain in regard to the personality of God. You cannot give further explanation than the Bible has given. Human theories regarding Him are good for nothing. Do not soil your minds by studying the misleading theories of the enemy." (Counsels to Writers and Editors pp. 93, 94)

"The revelation of Himself that God has given in His Word is for our study. This we may seek to understand. But beyond this we are not to penetrate...regarding the nature of God...This problem has not been given us to solve." (The Ministry of Healing p. 429)

Some "endeavor to determine the nature and attributes and prerogatives of God, and indulge in speculative theories concerning the Infinite One. Those who engage in this line of study are treading upon forbidden ground. Their research will yield no valuable results, and can be pursued only at the peril of the soul." (The Ministry of Healing p. 427)

These comments from the Spirit of Prophecy were made regarding the "pantheism problem," a manifold issue called the "alpha of heresies," principally supported by John Harvey Kellogg at Battle Creek Sanitarium (see Manuscript Releases vol. 11, pp. 247, 315; for a discussion on the history of this issue, see Lewis R. Walton's Omega II). But they are equally applicable to today's current discussions regarding the nature of the Godhead.

How much can be known about God? Only what He has chosen to reveal in His word. Amassed quotes from "theological authorities" does not prove anything except that many minds are trying to solve a problem that "has not been given us to solve." Could this be part of the "Omega"?? A reemergence of the alpha heresy, but in a different, more subtle and more dangerous form? (see 1 Selected Messages p 200).

The corporate concept is the bugaboo in understanding the Godhead, and it is also the stumblingblock for understanding the truth of the third angel's message. Until this basic idea is accepted, true repentance can never be achieved. The unique concept of corporate unity, leads to a sense of corporate guilt, which points out the need for corporate repentance. Each follows logically one behind the other.

A realization that had we personally "been there," we would have done the same sins committed by any other human being, casts a whole new light on the call for corporate repentance. Finally, we can see that we are no better than the worst scum on the face of the earth. "The books of heaven record the sins that would have been committed had there been opportunity." (SDA Bible Commentary vol.5 p. 1085).

The plan of redemption will be our study through out the ceaseless ages of eternity. There are many aspects of the plan of redemption that have been revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy. The study of the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ will ennoble our feeble minds and prepare us for fellowship with heavenly beings. It is this study to which we should put our efforts in the last remaining days of earth's history. Those things which are revealed, belong unto us and to our children forever!

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