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
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.
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
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.
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 brethren...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
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
"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
"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
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
"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,
"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!