Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Walter Scott - Trinity

Alexander Campbel's Actual Account of the Trinity as three self-contained persona. God is not a trinity of three persons according to Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone and Walter Scott of the American Restoration Movement.

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The teaching that God is three, separate persons is destructive, divisive and proof of little interest in the Bible. It is not something accepted or understood by most and leaves them like "wide-eyed owls sitting on a tree limb"-- troubled but uncomplaining. It is unbiblical, unhistorical, not part of the Restoration Movement and not a view of churches of Christ which are not flirting with charismatic worship.

The Bible and the overwhelming evidence of church writers never speaks of the trinity as made up of three separate persons (humans) able to stand face to face or side by side to decide which of the "kin" is best suited to carry out which task or which dispensation. Rubel Shelly, at Jubilee 98 even told the joke about how the Father and Spirit sorta aced the Son out so that He could be the sacrificial lamb in the physical world!!

Clear in the Bible and supported by most early scholars is the view that:

"Far removed is the Father of all from those things which operate among men, the affections and passions. He is simple, not composed of parts, without structure, altogether like and equal to himself alone. He is all mind, all spirit, all thought, all intelligent, all reason . . . all light, all fountain of every good, and this is the manner in which the religious and the pious are accustomed to speak of God" (Ireneus, Against Heresies 2:13:3 [A.D. 189]) 

"God begot before all creatures a Beginning, who was a certain rational power from himself and whom the Holy Spirit calls . . . sometimes the Son, . . . sometimes Lord and Word ... We see things happen similarly among ourselves, for whenever we utter some word, we beget a word, yet not by any cutting off, which would diminish the word in us when we utter it. We see a similar occurrence when one fire enkindles another. (Justin Martyr, c 100-165, First Apology) 

"The Son of God is the Word of the Father in thought and actuality. By him and through him all things were made, the Father and the Son being one. Since the Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son by the unity and power of the Spirit,

"the Mind and Word of the Father is the Son of God.

"And if, in your exceedingly great wisdom, it occurs to you to inquire what is meant by `the Son,' I will tell you briefly: He is the first- begotten of the Father, not as having been produced, for from the beginning God had the Word in himself, God being eternal mind and eternally rational, but as coming forth to be the model and energizing force of all material things" (Athanagoras, 177 AD, Plea for the Christians 10:2-4).

"It was not angels, therefore, who made us nor who formed us, neither had angels power to make an image of God, nor anyone else . . . For God did not stand in need of these in order to the accomplishing of what he had himself determined with himself beforehand should be done, as if he did not possess his own hands. For with him [the Father] were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, he made all things, to whom also he speaks, saying, 'Let us make man in our image and likeness' [Genesis 1:26" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:20:1).

Tertullian who invented the word Trinity or Trias Warned:

"There are some who allege that even Genesis opens thus in Hebrew: "In the beginning God made for Himself a Son." As there is no ground for this, I am led to other arguments derived from God's own dispensation, in which He existed before the creation of the world, up to the generation of the Son.

For before all things God was alone - being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself. Yet even not then was He alone; for He had with Him that which He possessed in Himself, that is to say, His own Reason.

For God is rational, and Reason was first in Him; and so all things were from Himself. This Reason is His own Thought (or Consciousness) which the Greeks call logos, by which term we also designate Word or Discourse and therefore it is now usual with our people, owing to the mere simple interpretation of the term, to say that the Word was in the beginning with God; although it would be more suitable to regard Reason as the more ancient; because God had not Word from the beginning, but He had Reason even before the beginning; because also Word itself consists of Reason, which it thus proves to have been the prior existence as being its own substance....

He became also the Son of God, and was begotten when He proceeded forth from Him (from chs. 5,7).

This was the common view until the liberal 19th century and the neo-pentecostal movement among churches of Christ. Even now, our Word and Wisdom proceed from us. However, they are not separate gods or persons.

Alexander - Thomas Campbell

Thomas Campbell tended to say: "On the one hand this, but on the other hand that." He describes the One Personal Being as three separate natures acting totally as one and yet so described as to warn us to treat the natures of God as separate agents. While holding to three individualities they were contained within the one Being. r exhibit his Son in human nature, or how could divinity and humanity be so united as to constitute but one individual person? We might as rationally query, how can soul and body, matter and mind be so united as to make but one individual being or person?

"It appears to be a query with some who profess to hold this doctrine, whether it be correct to use the term person when speaking of the above distinct characters (personae) in the divine essence. As to this, let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. In the mean time, all that we pretend to say in favor of this application of the term is, that although the term person (which, in relation to men, signifies a distinct intelligent agency or rational being, coexisting with others in the same common nature), is not manifestly applied in the Holy Scriptures to any of the Sacred Three: nor indeed can be so applied in strict propriety, according to its literal and obvious acceptation;

for when applied to God, instead of meaning a distinct intelligent being coexisting with others in the same common nature, we must mean by it, if we think and speak correctly, one and the self-same individual being so existing as to constitute in and to itself so many distinct or different, real and relative characters, or subsistences, each of which is but another name for the self-same individual essence or being considered as existing in the specified relation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

(Note: Character means an actor representing a distinct group. Thus God reveals Himself in flesh, soul or life and spirit or mind eleminating all other roles. Subsistences means the status of something which exists and proves His total, undivided existence or reality.)

"Yet seeing the Scriptures manifestly declare that the one Jehovah exists in three distinct intelligent agents, each of which is the one Jehovah so existing, for there is but one such being; and seeing that the personal pronouns, I, thou, he, we, us, are assumed and used in the Holy Scriptures, by, or in relation to, each or all of the divine characters; therefore, keeping in view the essential and indivisible unity of the divine nature, we think that we speak intelligibly and consistently with sacred truth, when we thus use the term person; and we presume, when taken in this sense, it will apply to the divine characters with as strict propriety as almost any other term in human language that is applied to God; for it must be granted, that in but few instances, if any, human language will strictly and property apply to the divine nature; therefore, when so applied, it must, for the most part, be used in a figurative and analogous sense.

"Again, it is a query with others, who profess to hold this doctrine, whether the relative terms Father, Son and Spirit, be real or economical. To this we would reply, that if we allow the Holy Scriptures to speak at all intelligibly upon this most profound and sacred subject, we must understand the above appellation as declarative of real internal essential relations, independent of any external work or economy whatever.

"For if the terms Father, Son and Spirit, be not declarative of real or essential relations, that is, of relations that have their foundation in the divine nature, and essentially or necessarily belong to it as such, the Scriptures do not reveal to us three distinct characters so related; but three distinct independent divinities or Gods, necessarily self-existent, and absolutely independent of each other; each and every one of them possessing the self-same properties, and of course, each of them so exactly the same in all respects, as to be absolutely undistinguishable one from another, by any means, property or attribute whatsoever; and, of course, three eternal self-existent independent coexistent Gods; each of them infinitely complete or perfect in and of himself, as possessing every possible perfection of being.

"A supposition this, not less repugnant to our reason than to the most express and unequivocal declarations of Holy Scripture, for the divine characters are constantly represented as coexisting in the most intimate and inseparable unity of essential relationship..

"And that, therefore, in the mean time, we ought to reject as unscriptural, all invocations or forms of address immediately directed to the Holy Spirit, as innovations in the worship of God, who alone has a right to prescribe both the matter and manner of his own worship, even of that worship which he will be graciously pleased to accept as right and pleasing in his sight. (Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Vol. 1, pp. 539-555. Thomas Campbell's "Circular Letter")

Walter Scott, Christian Baptist, Feb 1827

Walter Scott, an enlightened leader of the Restoration Movement defines Spirit as the Greek language demands. God is pure or Holy Spirit. Therefore, in His invisible nature we are confronted with and live within His Spirit presence. To lie to God's Holy Spirit or Mind is to lie to God himself. Both in Hebrew and Greek the word "spirit" literally means wind or breath. Because God is invisible but exerts His influence in the world, this word is used of the Mind or Mental Disposition of God. Because mankind was created in the image of God, we have our own spirit or "inner man."

"Again--Some will say, What does the expression Holy Spirit mean? Well, in scripture it stands first for God the Holy Spirit, and secondly for the holy mind or spirit of a believer--for illustration, take Peter's words to Ananias, "Why has Satan tempted you to lie to the Holy Spirit; you have not lied to men, but to God," (the Holy Spirit.) And the Saviour says, How much more will your heavenly Father give a holy spirit (as it should be translated) to those that ask him. Again--Praying in a holy spirit. Again--Paul says he approved himself God's servant "by knowledge, by long sufferings, by kindness, by a holy spirit'" by a mind innocent of the love of gain, or commerce, or sensuality.

"Now then the expression stands for both God the Holy Spirit, and for a believer's spirit made holy by him.

J. W. McGarvey agrees that the witness of the Spirit is the witness of the Words of God's Spirit influencing our own spirit. When our lives conform to this Spirit or mental disposition, then we know that we have the witness of our spirit in agreement with the message of God. Scott says:

"I shall now answer, from scripture, the following questions.--When do we know that we are born of the Spirit? I answer, when we know that our spirits are holy. But it will be asked again, when do we know this? I reply, when we behold our minds producing the fruits of a holy spirit. But what are the fruits of a holy spirit? Paul says they are joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, temperance, against such there is no (written) law.

It is these early writers, much closer to the original languagues, who are described as ignorant because they did not fall for the simplistic interpretation of Scripture through sermonizing which declares that the Holy Spirit is a person of the God family, separated from the other members or kin-folk. However, we suggest that it is the modern charismatic-leaning interpreters who have a need to claim supernatural power who are not informed. Scott would say that these people have an unholy spirit:

"Now, reader, let us return to God and holiness, for without it no one shall see his face--and believe me that a disputatious mind is not a holy mind--an intemperate, unmeek, or unfaithful spirit is not a holy spirit--neither is one that does not practise goodness, and gentleness, end long suffering, and peace--neither the mind that does not love, or does not rejoice in Jesus. Ye cavillers, ye conceited: few, who boast of your scriptural knowledge; but whose spirits, nevertheless, cannot move even the elements of the heavenly oracles, let me whisper to you a secret, that the kingdom of heaven is not so much in an abundant knowledge, as in an abundant spirit of righteousness, peace and holy joy.

Barton W. Stone

An Address to the Christian Churches, Second Edition (1821)

Many charismatic proponents are so desperate for proof of the trinity of persons that they see three members of the God family dividing up the creative work. The "proof" is that the word elohim is used in Genesis 1:1. However, the Old Testament makes it abundantly clear that this term is used to show that Jehovah is the Only Elohim. Furthermore, the term elohim is used when a singular person or "god" is being discussed. Stone notes that:

"The doctrine of a plurality of persons in the one God, is argued from the plural termination of the Hebrew word Elohim, translated God. As great stress is laid on this argument, I will particularly examine it. Here it will be necessary to introduce the rule in the Hebrew Grammar, by which we shall determine the point. "Pluralis pro singulari positus, denotat magnitudinem, et excellentiam"--which, literally translated, is, "A plural put for a singular denotes greatness and excellency."--Robertson's Heb. Gram., p. 240.

"Now, according to this rule, Elohim, God (Jehovah), is put in the plural; because the word expresses dignity and majesty. For the same reason, the Lord said unto Moses, "See, I have made thee Elohim, a God unto Pharaoh"--Exod. 7, 1. No one supposes, that because Moses was called Elohim in the plural, there must have been a plurality of persons in him; but he was so called because of his dignity and greatness. For the same reason Aaron called the molten calf he made Elohim--Exod. 32, 4, 8--wishing, by expressing it in the plural, to attach dignity and majesty to it, and by this means to excite reverence in the minds of its worshippers.  

"For the same reason, the Israelites called their idol Baal-berith, their Elohim, God --Judges 9:33.--And the Philistines called their idol Dagon, in the plural, Elohim, God--Judges 16, 23, 24. Also the idol Ashteroth, Chemosh, Milcom, Baalzebub, Nisroch, &c. though each is in the singular; yet each is called Elohim, God, in the plural--1 Kings, 11, 33; 2 Kings, 1, 2, & 19, 37. No doubt that those idol worshippers expressed their particular idol in the plural, because of its supposed dignity, majesty and excellence. (Note: not all references are right. We have corrected some )

"Again, we will apply the same rule to the plural word Adonim, master, "And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham, his master," his Adonim in the plural--Genesis 24, 9, 10, 51. So Potiphar is called Joseph's Adonim, master --Genesis 39, 2, 3, 7, 8, 16, 19, 20. So the captain of a guard was called in the plural Adonim, lord--Genesis 40, 7. So Joseph, the ruler of Egypt, was called Adonim, a lord--Genesis 42, 30, 33, & 44, 8. In all these places the plural is used for the singular, according to the well known rule; because the word expresses dominion, dignity and greatness.

"It would be unnecessary to multiply quotations. These surely are sufficient to prove to any unprejudiced mind, that the plural word, put for a singular, does not imply a plurality of persons. If it does, then there was a plurality of persons in Moses--in Aaron's calf--in each of the idols I have named--in Abraham--in Potiphar--in Joseph--and in the captain of Pharaoh's guard. There are surely none who will affirm it. If not, why, or how can they affirm, that there is a plurality of persons in the one God, because he is called Elohim?

"If then all agree, that there is but one only living and true God; all must agree that there are not two or three such Gods. If all agree that this one only God is an infinite spirit without parts; all must agree that this infinite spirit is not a compound of two or three spirits, beings, or Gods. These things are abundantly evident, concerning which there can be no dispute.

"The word Trinity is not found in the Bible. This is acknowledged by the celebrated Calvin, who calls the Trinity "a popish God, or idol, a mere human invention, a barbarous, insipid, and profane word; and he utterly condemns that prayer in the litany--O holy, glorious, and blessed Trinity, &c. as unknown to the prophets and apostles, and grounded upon no testimony of God's holy word." Admon. 1st. ad Polonos--Cardale's true Doct.--The language, like the man, I confess is too severe.

"It is commonly stated, that there are three persons in one God, of one substance, power and eternity. To me it is evident that they, who maintain this proposition, do not--cannot believe, that these three persons are three distinct spirits, beings or Gods, each possessed of the personal properties of intelligence, will and power; for this would not only contradict the scriptures, but also those sections of their creeds just quoted, which declare that there is but one only living and true God, without parts.

"They must understand the term persons in God, not in the proper and common sense of the word person; but in such a qualified sense as to exclude the notion of three distinct spirits or beings. What this qualified sense should be, has long puzzled divines; and in no proposition are they more divided. The cause of this perplexity is obvious, because no idea of it is to be found in revelation, nor reason.

"Revelation no where declares that there are three persons of the same substance in the one only God; and it is universally acknowledged to be above reason.--Imagination has been set afloat, taking different courses in different men, and wandering through the unknown fields of eternity, infinity and incomprehensibility. Their labors have been great; but after all their vast excursions, they have ended in mystery.

"That God is an uncompounded, eternal, infinite and unchangeable being, no Christian will deny in positive terms; yet this plain, fundamental doctrine has been so darkened by human inventions, that the minds of many have been warped from the simplicity of it. To define a person, as the fathers have done, to be "complete intelligent and individual subsistence, which is neither a part of, nor sustained by any other"; and to say that three such persons or subsistences are in the Godhead, is undoubtedly contrary to Scripture, and perfectly unintelligible. But there is but one God, though revealed under different names or relations to his creatures. (Letters to a Friend)

Thomas Cleland Letters to Barton W. Stone (1822)   is, therefore, that this shameful view is the product of modern charismatic scholarship and a simplistic reading of Scripture never able to get below the "dry onion skin" and into the deep, sweet meat of the Word. Cleland states the common view that God is a trinity of personae or manifestations but never three, separated persons:

"In our contemplations on this great subject, the distinction between a human and a divine person ought to be particularly attended to, as it would in some measure free the mind from perplexity, and save a great deal of time and unnecessary debate. Peter, James and John, were three persons, but they were separated from each other; they had only the same kind of nature, which is generally called a common specific nature, but not the same individual nature with another person. They were likewise as many beings as they were persons, each one having his own proper being, separate and distinct from all other persons or beings of human kind.  

"But none of these things are applicable to the divine persons in the Godhead; for they, however distinguished by their personal characters, and properties, are never separated, as having the same divine essence or nature. And moreover, this nature is the same individual nature of the persons in the Godhead, and because the Divine Being or essence is but one, therefore the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, is the very same; and this is what we understand when we say, there are three persons in the Godhead of the same substance, equal in power and glory, and do constitute the only living and true God." 

This is the Trinity defined as three natures or roles of the one and only Being or Person of God. It, therefore, does not differ much from Stone's view. It defines God's nature as reflected in man's nature being a body "person," a "soul" person and a "spirit" person. These three natures or characters of man also speak to one another as God had to swear by Himself. However, if our "spirit" gets out of our body and speaks to us we might want to call the doctor.

Cleland does not refute Stone's use of Robertson's grammar but he ignores it by accusing Stone of equating pagan gods to Jehovah. However, the word elohim is a generic word and is not set aside to define the True God. Scripture says that Jehovah is the only True Elohim.

He accused Stone of being an Arian. However, Arius taught that Christ was a created being and was not therefore fully God. This agrees with many preacher's notion that Christ is ranked second and the Spirit third. However, Stone believed that Christ was and is fully God. He was not a one/third god fit only for his own dispensation.

We repeat that the Hebrew and Greek definition as well as many Scriptural examples show that to have the Spirit is to have the Mind of Christ (Ph 2:5) or the mental disposition of Christ. "Letting this attitude be in us" produces the fruit of that Christ-controlled Mind. However studied the theology, those who do not let this mind lead them into "empting themselves" do not, as Scott says, have a holy spirit in any form and need repentance and conversion.

Kenneth Sublett

Alexander Campbell Defines Unitarian and Trinity

Barton W. Stone Rejecting the Trinity

How Thomas Campbell Explains the Trinity

Holy Spirit Index

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