Wahroonga, April 03, 2009
The Biblical Research Committee commissioned me to formulate an answer to your formal response without consulting with the committee regarding the details. The following has, therefore, not been edited by the committee, and words and phrases are mine. Though the committee has expressed its trust in my ability to present to you what has been its clear consensus when it comes to the content of your manuscript, any failure to do so in the most gracious and kind manner falls back on me alone.
In your response to the Biblical Research Committee assessment of your manuscript entitled “The Return of Elijah” you implore us to (1) show from the Bible that you are wrong; (2) give an evaluation of your personal experience; (3) affirm whether we trust the present Adventist position on the Trinity to be correct; and (4) arrange a forum where your thesis might be explored.
Let me respond in reverse order to the elements of this appeal.
In relation to (4) we have to acknowledge that open discussion and dialogue on some topics at times is different, and that it is a challenge to find venues for exploring new theories. We have created such protected environments of more academic nature over the last 8 years, but we have also experienced heavy attacks from not least extreme conservatives for doing so. We are still trying. Let me add that in the particular area of your concern, the very strong deliberate, and strategically planned attacks on the church from other groups who may be perceived to share some of your views, certainly have not been helpful.
Yet, let me add that a number of the issues you raise normally are considered and discussed in class rooms settings, in this case most likely at Master’s level. That is the forum where students try out new theories, receive critique by their peers, and work on improving categories and argumentation.
In relation to area (3) it is easy to state, but nevertheless it is a deep conviction of the members of the committee that the Seventh day Adventist understanding of the Godhead as expressed in the Trinitarian statements of our fundamental beliefs and supported with many biblical references, is in accordance with biblical truth. Your summary appeal regarding these fundamental beliefs in your latest edition has not convinced us, and the Ellen White quotes you use as a reference for change do in our view simply not say what you imply they are saying (see the appendix at the end of this letter).
Let me add that though some of our doctrines now and then are challenged and questioned by some of our biblical scholars or theologians, the doctrine of the Trinity has for considerable time had the full and undivided support of biblical scholars and theologians teaching in our colleges and leading our church in administrative positions throughout the world. It has been studied, the biblical foundation has been investigated, our SDA history has been researched, and we are in basic agreement about the framework within we pursue more light and enhanced understanding.
We believe that though our understanding and expressions always are open for improvement, we by following the doctrine of the Trinity on the basis of God’s self revelation in Christ through the Bible, worship the true God.
We do not, by the way, “worship” “a false understanding.” It is not the understanding, but the person of God who is the object of our worship, and we do not find in the Bible any example of “an understanding” being worshipped.
Further, you challenge us to sign personal statements on this belief, sealed with the official seal of the Church. This is a challenge we do not consider. We do not have to say again what our fundamentals clearly state, but believe in the simple appeal of Jesus to maintain clarity in language and intentions (Matthew 5:32). There is no purpose in making such a statement, claiming to believe what we already have stated we believe, other than to create doubt in the integrity of all the members who confess so when being baptized, and whose representatives have voted that statement.
In relation to your personal journey, spiritual life, and Christian integrity, the committee has not taken time, or felt it is qualified to pass judgment on your personal experience. Suffice to say, we are convinced that it is possible to harbour wrong theological views, yet do so in all honesty. We have no inclination that you are led by any false spirit, and we have no intention of questioning your personal motives or integrity. If you were to make the claim that your insight is due to special revelation from God, we would have ventured into an assessment of such a claim to prophetic gift or special revelation. But as it is, we simply disagree and find that your thesis is not supported from the Bible. Your theory is human. So are you, as we all are. Being human, we may get excited and enthusiastic, but nevertheless be theoretically wrong. Truth is that no human except Jesus is always only right in all intellectual views. The fact that I feel encouraged when coming up with a new theory does not make it more or less true. We do not build our doctrines on such emotions.
Regarding Biblical Foundation
Let me with these words of introduction move to the essential part of this final official response to you from the Biblical Research Committee.
You appeal to a “Thus saith the Lord” that your thesis is wrong. Such an appeal to clear biblical statements is commendable, and we have had no intention of not being biblical. In the following, we will, therefore, provide some biblically based comments on the main issues in the area of hermeneutics, exegesis, and theology. We fully agree that the ultimate authority with which we speak and act as a church is the Bible only, and we maintain that position over against anyone who would claim, for instance that the structure of the church, or the church offices, have an authority independent of the one based upon and given by the Word of God in Scripture. Let me add that this is one of the paradoxes in your theory as you seem to attach a unique authority to certain roles, independent of the authority of the word, with your theory about “flow of blessing” preferring what is historically a Roman Catholic authority structure instead of what we as a church have always understood to be the Protestant and biblical model.
But let me highlight two important points. First, it is commonly understood that any new thesis has to be proved rather than disproved. In this case, our major objection to your basic theory is exactly that you in our estimation have not proved it. You have not persuasively justified your thesis from the Bible itself though your claims rank it even higher than doctrine because it is set up as a criterion of or a system for establishing or assessing all doctrine. We will from the outset state that it is not up to us to disprove, but it is up to you to prove from the Bible that your thesis holds. It needs to be properly and thoroughly established. We have not found it to be so.
Second, we once again raise the issue of scholarship and interaction with other Seventh-day Adventist Bible students. We fully understand that your paper is not written as an academic paper, and we have had no intention of wanting you to do so. But your persistent refusal to consider, converse with, and potentially counter the arguments brought forward by Seventh-day Adventist scholars in the area of biblical exegesis, history, and theology in regard to the Trinity is not acceptable to us. It cannot be justified by claiming that some scholars do not believe in a six day creation, an investigative judgment etc. That is not a valid excuse for ignoring sound arguments, but looks rather as an attempt to avoid reality. And we are in this case not speaking about a few individuals on the fringe of Adventist faith, and who question the above positions of the Church. That would certainly not apply to scholars like Gerhard Pfandl, Merlin Burt, Jerry Moon, Denis Fortin, Raoul Dederen, Fernando Canale, Richard Davidson, Norman R. Gulley, Gerhard Damsteegt, Ron Clouzet and more, to begin a list that would encompass virtually all present scholars of the Seventh-day Adventist Church who have written on these topics, and whose writings are laid out in the open for everyone to study.
It is not enough just to claim that all these people are wrong in their biblical exegesis or historical judgments because they have not seen your system. You need to tell in specific why they are wrong, for instance, in their exegesis of biblical texts, or in their assessment of statements by Ellen White. You never do.
This lack of dialogue and genuine interaction may both be caused by and result in lack of clarity and precision in your manuscript and presentation of your thesis. We have repeatedly asked you to try to state your point of view briefly and in summary form. From experience we know that most theories which cannot be clarified this way probably are too complicated, and they are certainly not the obvious choice for or basis for doctrine. Very often, what we feel is clear in our own minds, seem less clear when put down on paper, but exactly therefore such exercise in precision is both worthwhile and necessary. You have in our estimation not yet reached that stage with your theory, and we have found no readers who have been sure they always understood what you actually meant.
Let me hurry to add that we have no reason to criticize your loyalty and actual behaviour, and we appreciate that you have submitted yourself to the Church in a process we realize is personally hurtful to you. Nevertheless, should no these facts make you question your own experience and its basis, Is this not an example of a spirit being too independent?
We did not at first find it necessary to repeat what these Adventist thinkers have already said, and we took their biblical expositions as part of our foundation for our response. Your manuscript is very lengthy, and the comments made have been many. We did not see the need to repeat it all.
Further, when we looked over our interchanges with you in the past few years, and the material which has been forwarded to you also by Australian Adventist theologians, such as Carol and Eric Livingston, all of which privy to the committee, we noted the enormous amount of biblical material open to you. You may have been dissatisfied with these biblical comments and the biblical based critique, and you certainly have the right to disagree, but you have received them. You have already had access to and been given biblical answers galore. Besides those which have been directly shared with you, you have expressed your familiarity with a number of the writings which prominent Adventist thinkers have written on the topic, providing the biblical basis for our fundamental belief.
Further, we have also taken note that your general thesis is one of philosophy and hermeneutical methodology. You have consistently made that claim yourself. In conversations with you, we observed that whenever anyone of those who had read and assessed your document, pointed out in your manuscript what they perceived to be misunderstandings of biblical texts, Ellen White quotations etc., you in general rather than responding to their specific exegetical, that is, biblical issues, quickly jumped to philosophical issues, and instead of looking more closely at the facts of the texts, you claimed these persons were wrong because they did not follow or understand the right value system.
So, for these main reasons we did not in our formal response include the explicit biblical references you are now calling for: your thesis was not in itself justified by clear biblical reasons, and we took for granted the many biblical expositions already shared by Seventh-day Adventist scholars and Bible students. Let me try in the following to a certain degree to make up for that omission by pointing out some of the areas where we perceive that it contains fundamental weaknesses, acknowledging that some of it will be repetitions of what has already been shared with you, but nevertheless are points which we in spite of your protests find absolutely valid.
On behalf of the Biblical Research Committee,
Further Assessment of “The Return to Elijah” by Adrian Ebens.
The manuscript by Adrian Ebens is very long, and it contains a large amount of biblical references. Readers have expressed their objections to many of its interpretations or its use of quotations. I see no need to comment on all of them, but will limit myself to addressing some key biblical issues raised by the manuscript. (References to the manuscript are to the 4th draft, printed 14th February, 2008. Though the committee has received a later and slightly updated version, these examples and the methodology they represent have not been changed).
General comment on the approach
Let me quote from one of the theologians who shared an evaluation of your document with us. It addresses the very basics, provides a succinct criticism of your methodology, and expresses very well the sentiments shared by the Biblical Research Committee.
AE distinguishes between two perspectives, one of achievement and one of relationships. He sets these forward as a priori criteria for evaluating any doctrine. This approach is flawed for several reasons.
It presupposes a philosophical framework which is not deduced from the Bible, but imposed upon it. AE’s approach thus has not God’s revelation in Christ and Bible as its starting point.
Throughout his document, his attempts to link his chosen criteria to various issues are often questionable, farfetched, or very difficult to follow. Little objective check seems possible.
In case of the divine nature of Christ, the conclusions he draws from his own selected criteria are highly questionable. AE understands the Trinitarian position of the co-eternal and omnipotent divinity of Christ to be based on achievement and power, not on relationship, and on that basis he rejects this position. Instead he claims that the divinity of Jesus is derived from an inheritance as a Son that is that Jesus had a beginning as God. This argument turns the theological positions upside down. The Trinitarian position is that the divinity of Jesus is defined by His eternal and unique relationship with God, sharing the basic attributes of divine being, such as eternity, power, and omniscience. Thus it is the Trinitarian position which builds on and underlines the relational aspect. Contrary to that position, the adoptionist view of the divinity of Jesus in which divinity is something he inherits or is given, all through history has been taken by persons who have emphasised the achievements of Jesus. Why else would he be installed as divine?
The manuscript thus basically sets forward the theory that Jesus became Son “by inheritance”, and that he was given divinity and is made equal to God. Contrary to non-Trinitarian positions throughout history, AE takes the view that Jesus is made equal due to his relationship, not his achievements, and contrary to the facts of theological history and to the understanding of Trinitarians themselves, he claims that the Trinitarian position as based on achievements, not relationship. This is quite a paradox, and reading the descriptions throughout the manuscript, one wonders whether AE truly has understood the historical development of the Trinity doctrine.
The major biblical issue to investigate is whether Jesus according to Scripture are Son “by inheritance”, whether his divinity is inherited.
Is There Any Biblical Basis for “Inherited” Divinity?
The thesis that Jesus is the divine Son by “inheritance” is primarily argued from the concept of “inheritance”, from the expression “begotten” (or Greek monogenes), and, in the case of AE, from the question of equality.
“Son by Inheritance?”
The textual foundation for this idea is first of all Hebrews 1:1-5, quoted here from ESV,
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"? Or again, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son"?
Another text which is significant for this notion, is Philippians 2:9-11 which reads,
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus “inherited” a name “more excellent than” the angels. God “bestowed” a “name above all names” on him. What is meant by these expressions? And when did the event in which Jesus was “appointed the heir of all things” take place?
In the context the answer is very clear. The text explicitly mentions the ascension immediately after the crucifixion when Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty.” The epistle develops this thought further in the subsequent section until 2:18. Paul refers to the enthronement of Jesus as the royal High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. The theme of the exaltation of Jesus above all heavenly powers at his ascension is common to the New Testament (cf. 1 Peter 2:18-22). Hebrews describes it and subsequently presupposes it throughout, repeating it now and then (cf. Hebrews 5:5-10).
In the context of Hebrews and its emphasis on the heavenly sanctuary service, the concept of inheritance is even more natural because inheritance presupposes death, and the presupposition for the inheritance given to Jesus is the death on Calvary, the perfect sacrifice brought once and for all (cf. Hebrews 5:8-9; 9:26-28; 10:10 etc.).
There is, therefore, no justification for understanding this text as referring to the pre existence of Jesus, or to any cosmic event outside of the drama of salvation. The cross and the heavenly sanctuary inaugurated by the sacrifice of Jesus are the focus. As “Son” (the word in Hebrews 1:2 is emphasized by having no article), Jesus is the unique representative of Deity, he is God (Hebrews 1) who became man (Hebrews 2) and died for our sins. Because he is “Son” in that sense, he inherits. He is not “Son” because he inherits, but inherits because he is “Son.”
In describing the exaltation of Jesus in heaven Hebrews quotes two Psalms from the Old Testament, Psalm 110 and Psalm2. Psalm 110 is much loved also by other New Testament writers as a reference to Christ (cf. Matthew 22:44; 26:64; Acts 2:34; Romans 8:34; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1, see also Hebrews 1:13; 6:20; 8:1; 10:12).
The quote from Psalm 2:7 is at times misunderstood because people are unaware of the Old Testament and cultural background. Hebrews does not imply any literal “birth”, but simply refers to the enthronement of Jesus. Psalm 2:6 makes it clear as its parallel line to “You are my Son, today I have born/begotten you” reads, “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” The event is the installment of Jesus as priestly king, and this is, by the way, how Psalm 2 is used also in other New Testament texts (e.g. Revelation 11:18; 12:5, which do not speak about the birth of Jesus by virgin Mary!). Describing royal enthronement as an “adoption” or a “birth” was a common metaphor in the cultures of Ancient Near East. A major recent Adventist study has pointed out how this exaltation of Jesus in Hebrews is pattern after the enthronement of the Davidic king.
So, Hebrews does not lend support to the theory that Jesus received his divinity by inheritance. The texts about his inheritance refer to the result of the incarnation, his sacrificial death on the cross, and his ascension to heaven where he was enthroned as royal priest. This is the point clearly made also by Philippians 2:9-11.
Excursion: A “Famous” Ellen White Quote
Ellen White’s view does not differ from this understanding, yet at times one particular quotation from her writings is used to prove that she taught Jesus was exalted to the position of “God” at some stage in pre-history.
It is important to underline that Ellen White’s statement are not the foundation for doctrine. Nevertheless, the quotation and its usage illustrate an important point, and I will, therefore, add this little excursion.
The quotation which is at times used to support the claim that Ellen White believed that Jesus at some stage became a God, or was made equal to God, is taken from the book Spirit of Prophecy, written in 1870. Here is the quote.
A special light beamed about his [Satan’s] countenance, and shone around him brighter and more beautiful than around the other angels; yet Jesus, God’s dear Son, had the pre-eminence over all the angelic host. He was one with the Father before the angels were created…. The great Creator assembled the heavenly host, that he might in the presence of all the angels confer special honor upon his Son ….
The Father then made known that it was ordained by himself that Christ, his Son, should be equal with himself; so that wherever was the presence of the Son, it was as his own presence …. His Son would carry out his will and purposes, but would do nothing of himself alone. Spirit of Prophecy (1870), Vol. 1, pp 17-18.
Some years later, when the issue was discussed, Ellen White clarified the meaning by these words,
He [Satan] was beloved and reverenced by the heavenly host, angels delighted to execute his commands, and he was clothed with wisdom and glory above them all. Yet the Son of God was exalted above him, as one in power and authority with the Father . . . There had been no change in the position or authority of Christ. Lucifer’s envy and misrepresentation, and his claims to equality with Christ, had made necessary a statement of the true position of the Son of God; but this had been the same from the beginning. Many of the angels were, however, blinded by Lucifer’s deceptions. Patriarchs and Prophets (1890), 37-38.
There is little doubt about what she wanted to say. She described the beginning of the great controversy in heaven, and Satan’s campaign. That was what made it necessary to confirm the position of Jesus as the unique representative of God. He was not made God. He was not made equal to God. He had always been one with the Father.
AE’s manuscript repeatedly misrepresents these quotations from EGW (cf. pp. 91, 103).
Monogenes and “Begotten.”
The expression “begotten” and the Greek word “monogenes” translated “begotten in older translations of, for instance, John 3:16, plays a major role in the discussion and is seen as a crucial argument in favour of the somehow, sometime before his incarnation received “divinity” or was “made equal to” God.
(It has not been completely clear to readers whether AE’s position is that Jesus had a beginning and whether his receiving divinity had a chronological starting point. AE has indicated that he believes Jesus had no beginning, yet how he then would be made equal to God, remains to readers of his manuscript unclear. For the sake of analysing monogenes, that is less important).
Let me simplify the presentation by inserting the text box from my recent article Record (May 21, 2009, page 9). Though it for natural reasons was unknown to AE until publication, similar views have been presented by Angel Rodriguez in Adventist Review and by Ekkehardt Müller in BRICOM’s news letter. The data are well known, and the position is built on a solid foundation.
Jesus—the One and Only!
One of the most beloved texts of the Bible is John 3:16. Let me quote from two major translations: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (NIV).” "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (NKJ).”
Which is it? Is Jesus the “one and only”, or is He “the only begotten”? What is the meaning of the Greek word “monogenes”? And what difference does it make?
Let me begin by dispelling a common misunderstanding. However way the word monogenes is to be translated, it does not denote a literal birth in our modern sense of the word. I was strongly and quite aggressively challenged at a meeting by a group who asked me whether the Seventh-day Adventist Church believes that Jesus literally is the only begotten Son of God? Such language imposes upon the Bible our modern culture, and a yes to this question presupposes that there is a mother with whom the Father God had intercourse! That would be the meaning if the expressions are to be understood literally. But we are not speaking about humans, we are speaking about God, and our language is in this case metaphorical and has clear limitations.
Moreover, we have of course to understand the expressions against the background of the culture into which the Bible was spoken, not our present culture. “Fatherhood” and “Sonship” had different connotations both in Semitic and Indo-European cultures of biblical times from what these concepts carry today. In the Bible a “son” may of course mean a “son”, but also a descendant, a successor (like Belshazzar in Daniel 5), students (like the sons of the prophets), or a representative (like the King of Israel, cf. Psalm 2:7)
So, what is the meaning of the “monogenes” in John 3:16? Greek scholars have proposed two origins for the word. One theory has been that the word stems from the verb gennao, which means “to beget” and is generally used only about males, as in the genealogy in Matthew 1. In that case the meaning of the term “monogenes” with the prefix mono (one or only one as in words like monogamy and monotheism) would be “the only one born to/begotten.”
This view is, however, today rejected by the vast majority of Greek scholars. Rather, the origin of the word is understood as genos, which means “kind, type.” The term monogenes in John 3:16 (and 1:18 and other NT texts) therefore means “the only one of its kind” or as said in NIV, “the one and only.” In this view the meaning could, but does not have to include the sense “only one born to/begotten.” Any “only begotten” son is of course unique, but being unique does not necessarily mean that you are the only one born.
How is this view substantiated? Let me mention two supporting arguments. One is a little technical and requires some understanding of Greek grammar; one, however, is based on the usage of the word and easily checked also without any training in Ancient Greek. First, the natural way to form a participle from the verb gennao creates the word monogennetos, not monogenes. Second, the use in Hebrews 11: 17 of the word monogenes about Isaach as the unique son of Abraham makes the meaning “only begotten” impossible as everyone knows that Abraham in a literal sense had more sons (and several million Muslims would, by the way, be quite upset if we claimed that Ishmael was not a son of Abraham!).
So, the meaning “one and only” or “unique” is the natural and obvious meaning of the word monogenes. Does that imply that Jesus had a beginning? The answer is no, unless you claim that Jesus is a different God and entertain a pagan view of the divine. Jesus is the unique representative of the Godhead to all creation. This is what He has always been.
The final aspect I want you to notice is that when the New Testament speaks about the Father and the Son, it describes a unique relationship. God is mentioned as a Father in only 18 texts of the Old Testament. In the Gospel of John alone, Jesus mentions His Heavenly Father more than 100 times in direct speech. We know the Father because we know the Son. As Son, so Father. Their relationship is unique in part because it is eternal. There never was a time when it did not exist. If there was a time when the Son was not, there would have been a time when God would not have been the Father. The unique unity and intimate relationship between the two presupposes, as expressed by Seventh-day Adventists today that the persons within the Godhead are “co-eternal.”
So, the term monogenes unquestionably means “unique” or “one and only”. It does not refer to any event which took place back in time (or before time!), but is an adjective describing Jesus as the unique representative for God.
Excursion: Ellen White
Once again Ellen White at times is drawn into the discussion as if the doctrine is to be deduced from her writings. Her use of the term “begotten” is straight forward. She simply quotes the translations she knew. She does not comment on the linguistic meaning. As an adjective the term referred to Jesus. It does not in itself indicate some event taking place back before our ages. Reference is at times done to the quote in Patriarchs and Prophets, page 33-34 which reads,
The Sovereign of the universe was not alone in His work of beneficence. He had an associate--a co-worker who could appreciate His purposes, and could share His joy in giving happiness to created beings. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God." John 1:1, 2. Christ, the Word, the only begotten of God, was one with the eternal Father--one in nature, in character, in purpose--the only being that could enter into all the counsels and purposes of God. "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6. His "goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." Micah 5:2. And the Son of God declares concerning Himself: "The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting. . . . When He appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him: and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him." Proverbs 8:22-30.
Contrary to what is often assumed, there is no indication in this quote that Ellen White by the term “begotten” meant a specific event back before the world was created. She simply uses “begotten” as a descriptive for Jesus Christ, as, for instance, “Prince of Peace.”
Similarly, by applying the poem about wisdom in Proverbs 8 to Jesus, she did not thereby claim that Jesus had a beginning as implied by AE, 91. She simply quoted the text, and she did as little state that Jesus had a beginning as she thereby stated that wisdom had a beginning and that there consequently was a time when God was stupid!
The Issue of Divinity and Equality
It is fair to say that the concept of divine equality plays a decisive role to AE’s thesis. To him, it all stands or falls with this issue. This is clearly stated by AE in the following quotes,
When I refer to performance-based relationship, I am referring to the qualifications required to enter that relationship; the basis upon which a person gains admittance to the realm of Divinity. Once the members of the Godhead are admitted we can certainly place them in to the most intimate and loving relationship imaginable, but we must determine to basis of acceptance.
To AE, the issue is what makes them equal, what is the access mode?
This approach is from the very outset methodologically flawed. When the biblical texts name Jesus as God, the question to ask is, what does the Bible mean by “God”? The question is not, “how does Jesus gain access into the Godhead/our perception of the Godhead”? Jesus is not to “be admitted” into the Godhead. He is explicitly by inspired biblical writers said to be God and identified with Yahweh.
AE’s question simply refuses to deal with the clear facts of the biblical texts. It presupposes his own theory by assuming that the Son is somehow to gain access to the Godhead (whether in reality our in our minds). As quoted in the beginning, “It presupposes a philosophical framework which is not deduced from the Bible, but imposed upon it. AE’s approach thus has not God’s revelation in Christ and Bible as its starting point.” The Seventh-day Adventist Church begins its teaching about God with God’s self revelation in Christ. AE does not.
When the Bible names Jesus Christ “God”, and when the Bible clearly tells us that God has revealed himself in Christ, he is our starting point for knowing God. Only those who doubt the clear testimony of the Bible would need an access mode for accepting him into divinity. He is defining Deity. What need is there for an access mode when Jesus is the starting point of the doctrine of God? And if we want to know what it means that Jesus is God, we go to the Bible to see what the Bible means by “God.”.
Coached in many terms and clouded in unclear categories not originating in the Bible, AE manages to avoid the real question. For that reason his theory from the outset is doomed to fail.
The members of the Biblical Research Committee appreciate Adrian Eben’s willingness to cooperate and his loyal spirit even in areas of disagreements.
Many readers have shared the comments with AE and evaluated his manuscript. They have pointed to a number of at best dubious understandings and questionable usages of both biblical texts and quotations from Ellen White. They have argued that his categories are often unclear and his basic concepts vaguely defined. They have observed that AE provides little textual basis for the theories of blessing flow, and that AE imposes human gender structures as he understand them on the Godhead, letting his anthropology determine his theology.
The committee also feels it unnecessary to provide a fully detailed written analysis of AE’s very lengthy document. The examples given above and in the appendix attached, the many shared in communication with AE, or in fully available public studies by Adventist theologians, support our previous assessment. The committee confirms its belief in the doctrine as expressed in the SDA Fundamental Beliefs. We believe it is based on solid biblical ground. The examples shared are in our estimation representative for the way AE in general is using texts and quotations, and they provide clear and overwhelming evidence for the insufficiency of his argumentation.
The Biblical Research Committee finds that there is a clear “Thus saith the Lord” in support of the eternal divinity of Christ, and that the nature of that divinity is clearly defined by Scripture. Jesus is identified with Yahweh, before him there was no God (Revelation 1:17; Isaiah 44:6), he is the great “I AM”, the self-existent One (as confirmed also by Ellen White, DA 469). Further, the finds a clear “Thus saith the Lord” in support of the distinct and divine personalities of both Christ and the Holy Spirit.
In contrast, it does not find that the theses of “The Return of Elijah” us supported by any clear “Thus saith the Lord.” The thesis is built on human philosophy and anthropology, it is not developed from Scripture, its concepts of blessing and blessings flow is speculative and lacks consistent Scriptural support, its usage of biblical texts are at times dubious, and the manuscript at times gives the impression that doctrine is to be built on the spiritual gift, not on the Bible alone.
For the Biblical Research Committee,
Appendix: Texts and Quotations
By Paul Petersen
The following are examples from the manuscript of AE where the Biblical Research Committee judges AE’s use of text or quotations to be unwarranted, or where the committee finds insufficient evidence for the conclusions deduced from the texts used. This is in no way a comprehensive list, but is representative for the manuscript in general and illustrates some of the problematic aspects of its methodology. They are included here us such illustrations.
Page 66-67; 160-161 and many more
AE states that “the Biblical view of headship is based on the concept of a fountain and a blessing.” No substantiation is offered for this claim. The accompanying claim about the two principles of seed (generative, masculine) and nurture (feminine) is anthropological, but not substantiated from biblical texts either. (From the point of anthropology it is factually untrue as women generate life as much as men do. Greeks and Romans thought like many cultures mistakenly that life came from men and entered women. The Bible, as modern science, understands life to arise from the male and female combined).
· The deduction from Gen 18:19 is highly dubious.
· The claim that 1 Cor 11:3 “establishes the flow of the blessing” is unsubstantiated. Where is “blessing” mentioned in the text? “Kefalos” means “source” or “origin”, and Paul speaks about the historical origin, Christ created man, the women was taken from the man, and Christ came to earth from God.
The whole theory is claimed rather than deduced from biblical texts. There is no analysis of what the Bible actually teaches about the concept of blessing. The fact that blessing in the Bible is mutual as between two covenant partners, such as God and man, God blessing man, and man blessing God, for instance, is not discussed. Fertility metaphors are imposed on the Bible and exalted to an absolute position which rather reflects fertility religions than biblical theology.
The analogy between Father/Son and husband/wife is used throughout as a given though the relationship between a father and a son hardly is comparable to the relationship between a husband and his wife. The Bible nowhere calls me as a husband the father of my wife.
If this whole theory is to be accepted, it needs a far more solid base from Scripture. There is no doubt that Scripture at times uses the fertility metaphor of “flowing”, the questions are what it means, and whether it is consistently and comprehensively used so that a doctrine can be established. AE never addresses these questions. It is also a Scriptural fact that OT seems to disagree with AE’s usage. It does not always distinguish our way between male and female “seed”; is not Christ the “seed” of the woman Gen 3:15. (On correspondence, AE has chosen to ignore such factual aspects, but to establish the thesis, it is necessary to deal with the facts of the texts).
These comments may be seen as minor, yet they are justified in light of the enormous significance AE attaches to this theory which at this point is all conjecture and presuppositions based on a specific anthropology.
This issue further underlines that AE imposes anthropology upon theology. He views and defines God from preset notions of human relations rather than from God’s self revelation in Christ.
AE lists what he perceives to be problematic texts and quotations. Among them are
· Proverbs 8:22-30: the committee fails to see why this texts which repeatedly is stated as a problem, presents any difficulty for the Trinitarian position; surely, AE does not want to claim there was a time where God had no wisdom!
· EGW in 1SP17: it is remarkable that AE quotes this text, but ignores to take into consideration the clear explanation EGW herself provided when questions arose, see PP 37-38.
· EGW in 14MR 23: another remarkable neglect, referring to EGW’s private and unpublished letter to her son James Edson in 1895, and not to the edition she herself used for publication, DA 669 (1898), in which the meaning comes out pretty clear.
This approach to Ellen White exemplifies lack of attention to commonly accepted sound hermeneutical principles, such as “letting the author explain it him/herself”, “bring in all the data/quotes on the subject discussed” etc.
The comment on the quote from the otherwise not too significant commentary by Adam Clarke, that this “reflects three Persons in one substance who only divided for the plan of salvation. When the plan of salvation is finished, then there will be mo more separate roles and it will only be one substance again. Jesus will no longer exist as a separate Being” seems to have very little basis in the quote it pretends to analyse. Certainly this is not a Trinitarian position (actually this is one of the historical heresies!), as little as it is the position of the SDA Church.
Once again the quote from PP 33-34 is used to imply that EGW meant “begotten” to be an act performed before the incarnation, and that the use of Proverbs 8 is meant to state that he had a beginning. There is no basis for such assumptions in the quote, as little as there is in these biblical texts themselves.
Once again the abuse of the quote from EGW’s private, unpublished letter instead of her own published statement.
o Repeating the abuse of the EGW quote, cf. page 86.
o Unsubstantiated deduction from Hebrews 1:1-4
o Similar unsubstantiated usage of John 1:1 and 3:16 none of which speak about “begotten” as an action back in eternity.
o Ignores the clear meaning of the term “monogenes” and builds a very unclear thesis on a basis in conflict with facts.
o Redefinition of what the word “eternal” or “everlasting” means is meaningless. This is neither the function nor the etymology of the biblical words. It must remain uncertain whether AE himself understands what he is saying, except for what he does not want to say. When we speak about God as “eternal”, does AE really want to say that it means God’s origin was back in a “time that is out of our mind”?
Page 100 et alia
The categories with which AE works when describing “life” do not impress by their logic. He treats “life” as if it is a physical substance, an object, so that there is “derived life” and “underived life”. If this way of speaking is to make sense, it at least needs to be clearly defined what is meant. It is not.
The examples of how Trinitarians might understand “one” ignores the generally accepted concept of “relational oneness”. The description seems demagogic, leaving a wrong impression of the view rejected.
Abuse of a James White quote which rejects modalism. Ignores the historical context. No reference to later James White quotes.
The comment on the concept of eternity in relation to the EGW quote from ST has to be characterized as a homiletic usage of the quote at best, but more to the point it is an abuse for the purpose of the theory.
· Repeating the abuse of the quote from 14MR, cf. pages 86-87 (see above).
· Repeating the strange usage of the quote from PP34, assuming it to say what it does not say.
· Using EGW’s use of the term “Comforter” to imply that He and the Holy Spirit is one and the same though the Bible calls him “another Comforter” which implies that both Jesus and the Spirit are comforters, yet are distinct.
And the list could go on and on with examples of quotes used for purposes outside of or contrary to their original context, of conjectures upon conjectures, and repetitions of the same lines and texts without any real substantiation of the claims deduced on the basis of these texts.
It will be all too easy to ignore these problems by claiming that each of them in itself may be insignificant compared with the overarching philosophy and the proposal for a re-evaluation of SDA doctrine. Yet, the problems force the reader to ask how it is possible to have confidence in the philosophy of a document which in these areas is that flawed.
With such an array of problematic issues in details, it is natural and fully legitimate to question the main hypothesis. Is this really a healthy foundation on which to build an overarching system for assessing all doctrine? Has this philosophical approach really been sufficiently developed from within inspired Scripture to justify that we use it as a presupposition for our teachings as a Church? Has it been established point by point with scrutinized evidence to support it? Does it contain the clarity expected for Seventh-day Adventists to adhere to it as a basis for doctrine?
The answer is a clear and unambiguous “no.”