The meaning of "mystery" in the triune God

Posted Oct 08, 2012 by desmond in General Hits: 2,992



      As for this lesson, allow me to comment specifically on the word “mystery” in reference to the triune God.  Looking at the Seventh Day Adventist Trinitarian point of view, it has been a personal opinion that the word “mystery” attached to the triune God extends beyond what is “in” God (nature). From the formal statements of the respected SDA theologians, the mystery is extended to the “relationship” between “what is in” God.  

Allow me to quote from the respected theologian Fernando Canale of this matter:

The concept of the Trinity, namely the idea that the three are one, is not explicitly stated but only assumed”.Fernando L. Canale, the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia Volume 12, page 105, ‘Doctrine of God

The “concept” of trinity is assumed.  Some Trinitarians within SDA say that many doctrines that we have does not appear “by name” in the scriptures like for example “incarnation, monotheism, etc.”  Yet let me clarify that “it is not the name but the CONCEPT” of trinity, more so of the 1980 – present trinity understanding that is questionable.  The reason for the “questionable” here is because, as FenandoCanale stated, “the concept is ASSUMED”.

Primarily, Dr. Fernando Canale makes clear of the mystery.  It is “not” the idea of the “three” but the concept of “three are one”.  To see “three personalities” IS NOT Trinitarianism.  Trinitarianism is telling that the “three personalities are ONE Being”. How we comprehend three Persons yet one Being is a “mystery” and cannot be fully explained as said often by Trinitarians. Yet this is not all. The respected Dr. goes on with his explanation.


      The first “mystery” is the nature of the “three”, the second mystery is the “identity” of the three.  How do we know Who is Who when They are one Being?  Said the respected Dr., “only” according to the “activities” to which They are involved “only” in the history of salvation.

      Let me be clear.  First, there is the assumption that within One Being there are three Persons.  Second, these three Persons foresee that should Adam sin, They have to have a “divine plan of salvation”.  In this plan, They have to take “specific activities” or to say “They have to enter roles” and each of these roles has its specific functions involved. The Dr. thenmakes clear, “on” these activities or roles can we IDENTIFY the three Persons.  What are the “names” of these roles taken? The respected Dr. continued:

Thus, Peter clearly emphasizes that the believers were “chosen and destined by (1) GOD THE FATHERand sanctified by the (2)SPIRIT for obedience to (3) JESUS CHRISTand for sprinkling with His blood” (1 Peter 1:2). (Ibid)

Dr. Fernando Canale continues to make himself clear:

…SPIRIT, LORD, AND GOD REFER to the (1) HOLY SPIRIT, (2) THE SON, AND (3) THE FATHER, respectively, thus expressing the unity of the Trinity on GOD’S SALVIFIC ACTION IN HISTORY. (Ibid)

Allow me then to give an “obvious impression” on the points of the respected theologian:

That the “words” FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT are “not” the REAL IDENTITY of the Persons but the NAMES OF ROLES OR OFFICES the “mysterious Personalities” took “ONLY” on the history of salvation or more common phrase is “history of man’s redemption”.

This statement has been affirmed also by a respected teacher in the Seventh Day Adventist circle:

“A PLAN OF SALVATION was encompassed in the covenant made by the Three Persons ofthe Godhead, who possessed the attributes of Deity equally. IN ORDER TO ERADICATE SIN and rebellion from the universe and to restore harmony and peace, "ONE OF THE DIVINE BEINGS accepted, and entered into, the ROLE OF THE FATHER, ANOTHER theROLE OF THE SON.” “THE REMAINING DIVINE BEING, the HOLY SPIRIT (the immediate implication is also a role), was also to participate in effecting THE PLAN OF SALVATION. All of this took place before sin and rebellion transpired in heaven.” (Gordon Jenson, Adventist Review, October 31, 1996, p.12 Week of Prayerreadings, ‘article ‘Jesus the Heavenly Intercessor) 


1.      The terms “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” in the scriptures ARE NOT representing the “real Persons” but are representing the “roles played” by these Persons only in the plan of redemption.  This would mean that “after” the plan of redemption, when we will be in that blessed kingdom, we will not “behold” a “real” Father and a “real” Son but we will behold “unidentified three Personalities in one Being”.

      The same also is the case “before” the fall of Adam, for the three “roles” are only effective in the plan of redemption. If I would be among the angels back then, why should I call one of the Persons Father or Son when it has not yet been made known to me the plan of redemption because no one is yet to be redeemed?  Sad to say, the scriptures and the spirit of prophecy are “full of the words Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and every time these words are mentioned regardless of the time(pre-fall, post-fall, post redemption), they are referred to as roles and not the “real Persons”.   So everytime we pray “our Father in heaven”, in SDA Trinitarian understanding, we are talking to the “role” and not the “real Father”.  

2.      Because the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are roles, we do not know “which” among the “Three” is playing that role.  From the first premise, we know there are three Persons, but in the choosing of roles, we do not know whether the “real” first Person chooses the “role” of the second person or the Son, and so with the other two.  That is again mystery of IDENTITY aside from the mystery of NATURE of the One Being in three Persons.

      What if something like this happens? Is it possible that in a specific “role”, the Persons involved can “interchange” with respect to time? For example, we say, for a period of 2000 years, one among the Three will play the role Father, and after that, He will interchange with the One playing the role of the Son, and after years, He will interchange with the one playing the role of the Holy Spirit?  With the assumptions taken and expressed in the theology of “role playing”, this is not impossible to happen.  Anyway, all in all this will result in confusion of identity; in fact sad to say, even in the roles the taken, there is no clear identification of the Persons involved as claimed by Dr. Fernando Canale for we are not even sure whether the Person playing that role will play it for the whole period of man’s redemption.  

3.      In the bible, we cannot find any phrase saying “God the Son” and “God the Spirit”.  What we have there is the “Son of God” and the “Spirit of God”.  What is the difference? GOD THE SON in the “role playing context” means God (real Person) playing the office/role of “Son” in the plan of redemption.  GOD THE SPIRIT in the “role playing context” means God (real Person) playing the office/role of “Spirit” in the plan of redemption.  GOD THE FATHER in the “role playing context” means God (real Person) playing the office/role of “Father” in the plan of redemption.  Yet no one among the Three is a “real” Father, a “REAL” Son, and a “real” Holy Spirit.  In reality, They are the Mysterious three Persons in one Being.  So when we say TRIUNE GOD (real Persons), we are “NOT” talking of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the triune God is not dealing with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but of three Mysterious Persons assumed to be “in” one Being.  Only in redeeming man is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit involved.  

4.      In the second result, we discussed the interchangeability of "functions" within a role played.  Here we will briefly pass through the possibility of interchangeability of "functions" in one specific role.  The difference here is that, once a role is taken, “all throughout” the time allotted for redemption, that will be the Person’s role, however, the functions embedded in that particular role is interchanged.  A common example is to possibility that the role Father will take the   function to be "incarnated"; which, in a role theology, it will have the same end. This possibility has been proposed in a previous sabbath school lesson” 

But imagine a situation in which THE BEING(real Person)we have come to know as GOD THE FATHER(role)came to die for us, and the ONE(real Person) we have come to know as JESUS(role) stayed back in heaven (we are speaking in human terms to make a point). NOTHING WOULD HAVE CHANGED, except that we would have been calling each by the name we now use for the other. THAT IS WHAT EQUALITY IN THE DEITY MEANSRoy Adams-Sabbath School Lesson, April 10, 2008

It says to us that since the Mysterious Persons in that one Being are “all same”, it doesn’t matter whether the roles They take have interchangeable functions attached.  The same would be the effect. It is sad to think here that a possibility is entertained wherein a Father will have to “submit” to His Son and the Son to be “leading” the Father.  This is the effect of a confused identity; you don’t know who is who.  As a result, all the values attached to identity will be severely affected. 

Deuteronomy 29:29 it says, “The SECRET THINGS belong unto the LORD our God: but THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE REVEALED belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. 

In the light of this verse, I sincerely ask a Seventh Day Adventist Trinitarian the following questions: 

(1)  Is it good that the Trinity doctrine delves into the unknown by an assumed concept? 

(2)  Does the things “not revealed” by Godassumed and taught to millions of believers as in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit only as roles played only in the so-called plan of redemption?

(3)  Do you accept the current theological understanding that the Father is not a Person but a role played by a Person, same as the Son and the Holy Spirit? That the Father is not a real Father, and the Son is not a real Son and the Holy Spirit is not a real Holy Spirit but are just “role names” taken by three mysterious Personalities assumed to be in one Being? 

As for me, I choose to believe the plain words of the scripture.  I choose to believe in a real Father and a real Son.  I believe from plain scriptural testimony that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are real Personalities: the Father as a real Father, the Son or Christ as a real Son of the Father and the Holy Spirit to be Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of Christ. I choose to believe this for this has been among the “revealed things” in the bible so that I will never see my God and my Lord who intends to reveal themselves to me as mystery.  Blessings to all.