The Trinitarian System: Alexander Campbell

The Christian Baptist No. X. Vol. IV May 7 1827

  Style no man on earth your Father; for he alone is your Father who is in heaven: and all ye are brethren. Assume not the title of Rabbi; for ye have only One Teacher; neither assume the title of Leader; for ye have only One Leader--The Messiah. Messiah.

The Trinitarian System.
DEAR SIR,--IN one of your fireside conversations, when interrogated on your views of "the Trinity," you gave an exposition of the first verse of the first chapter of John's Testimony, with which myself, and, I believe all present, were much delighted. In conversing with those present on that occasion, I found that they, as well as myself, had forgotten some of the more prominent ideas. You will confer no ordinary favor on us all, and no doubt it will be pleasing to many of your readers, to give it in writing as nearly as possible to what you spoke on the subject. Do, then, oblige us so far as to give us the same in your next number of the Christian Baptist.

     Yours, most affectionately,

Kentucky, March 1, 1827. TIMOTHY.

John and later Theophilus understood the Gnostic attack against the young Church.   John wrote c AD 90-100 and often corrects misunderstandings. He is the only one who records the story.

Jesus informed the others that:
John 20:17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not;
        for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them,
        I ascend unto MY Father, and YOUR Father;
        and to MY God, and YOUR God.

The "voice" did not pronounce Jesus as a SON (as opposed to a daughter of the original mother as tripple goddess) only after He was baptized: this was required in Isaiah 1.

Thomas saw Jesus and said:

John 20:28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

Jesus told Thomas that he was speaking by SIGHT and not by FAITH.

John 20:29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed:
        blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

John corrects the belief that Jesus WAS Jehovah or THE Lord-God in the flesh:

John 20:30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

Consistent with all of the claims made by Jesus, He was not THE GOD but THE SON of God.  He is the God of Jesus and He is our God.

John 20:31 But these are written,
        that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God;
        and that believing ye might have life through HIS name.

Peter confessed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God: one is HINDERED from true baptism and Deny that Jesus is the CHRIST or anointed of God.

Acts 8:35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
Acts 8:36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
Acts 8:37 And Philip said, IF thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.
        And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Theophilus was also plagued with Gnosticism and is the first Church scholar to define the TRIAS as the antithesis of the always-pagan father, spirit (mother) and son.  Thomas Campbell defined the nature of God and His Christ in the same way:

Tertullian an inventor of trias: But, first, I shall discuss His essential nature, and so the nature of His birth will be understood. We have already asserted that

God made the world, and all which it contains,
         by His Word, and Reason, and Power.

 It is abundantly plain that your philosophers, too,
 regard the
Logos-that is, the Word and Reason-
         as the
Creator of the universe. [Regulative Principle]

And we, in like manner, hold that the Word, and Reason, and Power, which we have said God made all,
have spirit as their proper and essential substratum, in which
the Word has in being to give forth utterances,
..........and reason abides to dispose and arrange,
..........and power is over all to execute.
We have been taught that

(reason) proceeds forth from God,

in that procession He is generated;
so that He is the Son of God,
and is called God from unity of substance with God.
For God, too, is a

Even when the ray is shot from the sun, is still part of the parent mass; the sun will still be in the
          ray, because it is a ray of the sun-
..........there is no division of substance,
merely an extension.

Thus Christ is Spirit OF Spirit, and God OF God, as light OF light is kindled.

The material matrix remains
entire and unimpaired,
though you derive from it
any number of shoots [Light, Wisdom, Grace] possessed of its qualities;

so, too, that which has come forth out of God
is at once God and the Son of God
, and the two are one. In this way also, as He is Spirit of Spirit and God of God,

He is made a second in manner of existence-in position, not in nature;
and He did not withdraw from the original source,
           but went forth.
This ray of God, then, as it was always foretold in ancient times, descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, in His birth God and man united.
Campbell, Alexander, Trinity The relationship of Word to God was the same as the relationship of a word to a thought.

And so this is the most common understanding among the church fathers. The the word is the SON of the speaker as FATHER then there is no problem trying to sort out how a LITERAL son of god could be equal with the Father or of the same age.

1st. A word is a sign or representative of a thought or an idea
       and is the idea in an
audible or visible form.
It is the exact image of that invisible thought 
       which is a perfect
secret to all the world until it is expressed.

2d. All men think or form ideas by means of words or images; so that no man can think without words or symbols of some sort.

3d. Hence it follows that the word and the idea which it represents, 
co-etaneous, or of the same age or antiquity.
........It is true the WORD may not be uttered or born 
        for years or ages after the idea exists,
........but still the WORD is just as old as the IDEA

4th. The idea and the word are nevertheless distinct from each other, though the relation between them is the nearest known on earth.
........An idea cannot exist without a word
        nor a word without an idea.

5th. He that is acquainted with the word, is acquainted with the idea
        for the idea is
wholly in the word.

By putting together the above remarks on the term word, 
we have a full view of what John intended to communicate.
As a word is an exact image of an idea,
so is "The Word" an exact image of the invisible God.

As a word cannot exist without an idea, nor an idea without a word,
God never was without "The Word," 
        nor "The Word" without God;

or as a word is of equal age, or co-etaneous with its idea,
        so "
The Word" and God are co-eternal.

And as an idea does not create its word nor a word its idea; so God did not create "The Word," nor the "Word" God.

To Timothy.

DEAR SIR,--YOU will recollect that when I was interrogated on that subject, I gave sundry reasons why I felt reluctant to speculate on the incomprehensible Jehovah. It was also stated that there was no topic in common estimation so awfully sacred as that of the doctrine of "the Trinity," and if a man did not speak in a very fixed and set phrase on this subject, he endangered his whole christian reputation and his own usefulness

At the same time I remarked that I was very far from being afraid either to think upon this subject or to express my thoughts, 

although it was deemed so unpardonable to depart even in one monosyllable from the orthodox views. I moreover stated that I disliked any thing like speculation upon this topic in particular,  

because, if I differed in the least from the orthodox, I introduced something like a new theory, or something that would be treated as such, and either approved or rejected on theoretic grounds. 

If, however, you will neither make a new theory out of my expositions, nor contend for any speculations on the subject, nor carry the views farther than where I leave off, I will gratify you and other friends with my views of the first sentence in John's Preface to his Testimony--"In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God." 

1. In the first place I object to the Calvinistic DOCTRINE of the Trinity for the same reasons they object to the Arians and Socinians. 

They object to these, because their views derogate in their judgment from the eternal glory of the Founder of the christian religion. 

ARIANS & SOCIANS: They will not allow the Saviour to have been a creature, however exalted, because they conceive this character is unbecoming him, and contrary to the scriptural statements concerning him. They wish to give him more glory than they think the Arians are willing to do. 

Now I object to their making him and calling him an "Eternal Son" because I think that if he were only the Son of God from all eternity, he is entitled to very little, if any more glory, than what the Arians give him. 

CALVINISTS: I wish to give him more glory than the Calvinists give him. 
        They are as far below his real glory, in my judgment, as the Arians are in their judgment. 

2. But in the second place, I have an insuperable objection to the Arian and Calvinistic phraseology--

On the doctrine of the first relation existing between the Father and the Saviour of Men, because it confounds things human and divine, and gives new ideas to bible terms unthought of by the inspired writers. 

The names Jesus, Christ, or Messiah, Only Begotten Son, Son of God, belong to the Founder of the christian religion, and to none else. 

They express not a relation existing before the christian era, but relations which commenced at that time. 

To understand the relation betwixt the Saviour and his Father, 
        which existed before time,
        and that relation which began in time,
              is impossible on [333]  either of these theories.

There was no Jesus, no Messiah, no Christ, no Son of God, no Only Begotten, before the reign of Augustus Cesar.

The relation that was before the christian era, was not that of a son and a father, terms which always imply disparity; but it was that expressed by John in the sentence under consideration.
The relation was that of God, and the "word of God." This phraseology unfolds a relation quite different from that of a father and a son--a relation perfectly intimate, equal, and glorious.

This naturally leads me to the first sentence of John. And here I must state a few

1. No relation amongst human beings can perfectly exhibit the relation which the Saviour held to the God and Father of All anterior to his birth. 

The reason is, that relation is not homogenial, or of the same kind with relations originating from creation. All relations we know any thing of are created, such as that of father and son. 

Now I object as much to a created relation as I do to a creature in reference to the original relation of God and the word of God. This relation is an uncreated and unoriginated relation. 

2. When in the fulness of time it became necessary in the wisdom of God to exhibit a Saviour, 

it became expedient to give some view of the original and eternal dignity of this wonderful visitant of the human race.  And as this view must be given in human language, inadequate as it was, the whole vocabulary of human speech must be examined for suitable terms.

Isa 59:15 Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey.
           And the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.

Isa 59:16 And he saw that there was no man,
           and wondered that there was no intercessor:
           therefore his arm brought salvation unto him;
           and his righteousness, it sustained him.

Isaiah 44:6. 
Thus saith Jehovah, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, Jehovah of hosts: I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God. ASV

Hebrews 2 (New King James Version)

 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

Isa 59:17 For he put on righteousness as a breastplate,
           and a helmet of salvation upon his head;
           and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing,
           and was clad with zeal as a cloak.

Isa 59:18 According to their deeds,
           accordingly he will repay, fury to his adversaries,
           recompense to his enemies;
           to the islands he will repay recompense.

Isa 59:19 So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west,
           and his glory from the rising of the sun.
           When the enemy shall come in like a flood,
           the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.

And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and
           unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord. Isa 59:20

Acts 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted [TURN], that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;

The word RETURN or CONVERT is done ONLY at the time and place of baptism in the New Testament.

Isa 59:21 As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord;
           My spirit that is upon thee,
           and my words which I have put in thy mouth,
           shall not depart out of thy mouth,
           nor out of the mouth of thy seed,
           nor out of the mouth of thy seeds seed,
           saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.

3. Of these terms expressive of relations, the most suitable must be, and most unquestionably was, selected. And as the relation was spiritual and not carnal, such terms only were eligible which had respect to mental or spiritual relations. Of this sort there is but one in all the archives of human knowledge, and that is the one selected.

4. The Holy Spirit selected the name Word, and therefore we may safely assert that this is the best, if not the only term, in the whole vocabulary of human speech at all adapted to express that relation which existed "in the beginning," or before time, between our Saviour and his God.

These postulata being stated, I proceed to inquire what sort of a relation does this term represent? And here every thing is plain and easy of comprehension. I shall state numerically a few things universally admitted by the reflecting part of mankind:

1st. A word is a sign or representative of a thought or an idea, and is the idea in an audible or visible form. It is the exact image of that invisible thought which is a perfect secret to all the world until it is expressed.

2d. All men think or form ideas by means of words or images; so that no man can think without words or symbols of some sort.

3d. Hence it follows that the word and the idea which it represents, are co-etaneous, or of the same age or antiquity. It is true the word may not be uttered or born for years or ages after the idea exists, but still the word is just as old as the idea.

4th. The idea and the word are nevertheless distinct from each other, though the relation between them is the nearest known on earth. An idea cannot exist without a word, nor a word without an idea.

5th. He that is acquainted with the word, is acquainted with the idea, for the idea is wholly in the word.

Now let it be most attentively observed and remembered, that these remarks are solely intended to exhibit the relation which
        exists between a word and an idea, 

        and that this relation is of a mental nature, 
        and more akin to the spiritual system than any relation created, of which we know any thing.

It is a relation of the most sublime order; and no doubt the reason why the name Word is adopted by the apostle in this sentence was because of its superior ability to represent to us the divine relation existing between God and the Saviour prior to his becoming the Son of God.

By putting together the above remarks on the term word, we have a full view of what John intended to communicate. As a word is an exact image of an idea, so is "The Word" an exact image of the invisible God. As a word cannot exist without an idea, nor an idea without a word,
        so God never was without "The Word," nor "The Word" without God;
        or as a word is of equal age, or co-etaneous with its idea,
        so "The Word" and God are co-eternal.

And as an idea does not create its word nor a word its idea;
        so God did not create "The Word," nor the "Word" God.

Such a view does the language used by John suggest. And to this do all the scriptures agree. For "The Word" was made flesh, and in consequence of becoming incarnate, he is styled the Son of God, the only Begotten of the Father. 

As from eternity God was manifest in and by "The Word," so now God is manifest in the flesh. As God was always with "The Word," so when "The Word" becomes flesh, he is Emanuel, God with us. As God was never manifest but by "The Word," so the heavens and the earth, and all things were created by "The Word.

And as "The Word" ever was the effulgence or representation of the invisible God, so he will ever be known and adored as "The Word of God." So much for the divine and eternal relation between the Saviour and God. You will easily perceive that I carry these views no farther than to explain the nature of that relation uncreated and unoriginated which the inspired language inculcates.

King Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. Isaiah 44:6

Wonderful Counselor Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him? Isaiah 40:13  
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 1 Timothy 2:5
1John 2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
     Heb. 12:24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
The Son's NAME shall be Called.
Mighty God I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending [Of His World or Kingdom], saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. Revelation 1:8
We bear the Name of Our Father
Everlasting Father
Jehovah is a generic term ao that the TRUE God  identifies Himself as being the ONE Who is under discussion:
Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting. Isaiah 63:16
---Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction. Revelation 1:12

Prince of Peace Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5:31
These views place us on a lofty eminence
whence we look down upon the Calvinistic ideas of "eternal filiation," "eternal Generation," "eternal Son,"
        as midway betwixt us and Arianism.

From this sublime and lofty eminence we see the Socinian moving upon a hillock; the Arian upon a hill; and the Calvinist, upon a mountain;
all of which lose their disproportion to each other because of the immense height above them to which this view [Campbell's] elevates us. The first sentence of John I paraphrase thus: From eternity was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was, I say, from eternity with God. By him all things were made, and he became flesh and dwelt among us.

He became a child born and a son of man. As such he is called Emanuel, Jesus, Messiah, Son of God, Only Begotten of the Father.

Heb. 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners
        spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
Heb. 1:2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son,
        whom he hath appointed heir of all things,
        by whom also he made the worlds;  [His Word or WORDS]
Heb. 1:3 Who being the brightness of his glory,
        and the express image of his person,
        and upholding all things by the WORD of his power,
        when he had by himself purged our sins,
        sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
Heb. 1:4 Being made so much better than the angels,
        as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
Here is absolute proof that the WORD of God was what the ONE God SPOKE.

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the  
      Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:2 The same was in the beginning with God.

Gen. 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
    2822. choshek, figuratively, misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, wickedness

John 1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
John 1:4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 
Gen. 1:3 And God SAID,

John 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
Let there be light: and there was light.
      215 light, happiness, brightness, prosperity

John 1:5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
    2638 Katalambano take eagerly, comp;\rehend
Gen. 1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: [worked]

John 1:9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
and God divided the light from the darkness.

John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
Acts 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls
John 1:11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Psa 33:6 By the
[1] word of the [2] Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the [3] breath of his mouth.
Psa 33:7 He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses.
Psa 33:8 Let all the earth fear the Lord: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
Psa 33:9 For he SPAKE, and it was done; he COMMANDED, and it stood fast.
Psa 33:10 The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought:
        1011 bouleuo advice, or human volition, will
        he maketh the
devices of the people of none effect.
Psa 33:11 The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever,
thoughts of his heart to all generations.
Psa 33:12 Blessed
        is the nation whose God is the Lord;
        and the people whom he
hath chosen for his own inheritance.

I can give the above views upon no other authority than my own reasonings. I learned them from nobody--I found them in no book. It is true, indeed, I have held the idea for sixteen years that Jesus is called the Son of God, not because of an "eternal generation," (which I conceive to be nonsense,) but because he was born as the angel described to Mary. 

This is now pretty generally received by a great many christians. Nor would I dispute or contend for this as a theory or speculation with any body. I could, indeed, amplify considerably, and perhaps obviate some difficulties by following up farther the hints submitted; but such are my views of [334] the import of the beginning of John's testimony. You will remember that I make no systems, and although there are some abstract reasonings upon terms (as indeed much of our reasonings about language are) in the preceding, it is only for the purpose of getting into the sacred import of a style from which we have been proscribed by a speculating philosophy. I have acceded to our request with more ease than I could have done, had it not been for a few prating bodies who are always striving to undo my influence by the cry of Unitarianism, or Socinianism, or some other obnoxious ism. From all isms may the Lord save us!

     Yours truly,


[The Christian Baptist 4 (May 1827): 333-335.]

Kenneth Sublett Email
Alexander Campbell Rejecting Unitarianism and the Trinity

Barton W. Stone Rejecting the Trinity
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