(Originally printed in the Fall 2003 Issue of the MCOI Journal)
Should you believe in the Trinity? This is the question raised by the widely circulated, 1989 booklet published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTBTS)*, appropriately titled Should You Believe in the Trinity?and subtitled Is Jesus Christ the Almighty God?[1. WTBTS, Should You Believe in the Trinity? (Brooklyn, New York: WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC., 1989)] Well, should we believe in the Trinity? Is Jesus Christ Almighty God? It seems more popular than ever to deny the closely related doctrines of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ. Cults of all stripes, popular false teachers such as Gwen Shamblin of Weigh Down Workshop fame, Liberal scholars, Unitarians (of course), Muslims, New Agers, as well as countless others deny the Trinity and the Deity of Christ up one side and down the other. Are they right? Can 10,000 Frenchmen be wrong? No, they are NOT right; and yes, 10,000 Frenchmen CAN be wrong.
Probably the most important doctrine of the Christian faith is the Deity of Christ. Even so, most Christians, while believing that Jesus Christ is God, cannot adequately defend the teaching from the Scriptures. It is tough, if not impossible, to defend or even explain the Deity of Christ without at least a rudimentary understanding of the Trinity doctrine. This can be even more difficult for the average Christian to defend to anyone who would challenge the truth of the doctrine. Sadly, many Christians themselves are fairly confused in their understanding of the Trinity. Does the doctrine teach there are three Gods in one, or is our God one person Who manifests Himself in three different modes at different times? Neither of these is true, but scandalously, many Christians do not know this! Our God is ONE God Who exists eternally in three persons, not three modes or manifestations. The Father is NOT the Son, and the Son is NOT the Holy Spirit. Even if our finite minds cannot perfectly comprehend how these things can be so, we all need to understand and be able to make the case that it is BIBLICAL and true or we will continue to be easy prey for Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) and other anti-Trinitarians.
It is beyond the scope of this one article to make an all-encompassing case for the Trinity or even to explore fully all the arguments— pro and con—having to do with the Deity of Christ. But we will explore some of the objections given by false teachers by using the specific arguments advanced by the WTBTS— the most polished of all Trinity/Deity-of-Christ deniers—with the hope that the reader will go beyond this modest effort and study this very important doctrine in depth.
The Should You Believe in the Trinity? booklet, which I shall hereon refer to as the Trinity booklet to save typing ☺, purportedly proves the Trinity/Deity-of-Christ doctrines are unreasonable, confusing, God dishonoring, unbiblical, and heretical. They quote (or rather, misquote) numerous genuine Christian publications and scholars, as well as numerous theological liberals, heretics, Unitarians, and other non-Christians whose anti-Trinitarian, and often, anti-Biblical biases are never divulged in the publication.
The booklet does not include a bibliography, utilize footnotes, give volume and page numbers, or otherwise make it easy or convenient for the reader to check their sources for accuracy or context. After one does check out their sources and learns how these sources are either misquoted, taken out of context, heretical, or all of the above, one can see WHY they do not make it easy for the reader to track down and check out the source documents for themselves. It is stunning, even to those of us who are well aware of the WTBTS record when it comes to misrepresentation and prevarication, to see how very dishonest this little booklet is.
Can I Misquote You On That?
The Trinity booklet starts out this way:
Do you believe in the Trinity? Most people in Christendom do. After all, it has been the central doctrine of the churches for centuries. In view of this, you would think that there could be no question about it. But there is, and lately even some of its supporters have added fuel to the controversy. [2. Should You Believe in the Trinity? (Brooklyn, New York: WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC., 1989, 3]
To me this suggests that many of the people and publications quoted in this booklet will be Trinity supporters who are questioning the doctrine’s veracity or, at least, its roots in the Bible. But in reality, the Trinity supporters who are quoted in the booklet are not “questioning” or denying that the doctrine is rooted in Scripture, but they are being misquoted or taken out of context to make it appear they believe that. One example of a staunch Trinitarian whose words are ripped from their context to make a dubious point is Jesuit Edmund J. Fortman. Fortman, in the introduction to his book, The Triune God, describes himself as “a firm believer in the Triune God.” Fortman states:
If we take the New Testament writers together they tell us there is only one God, the creator and lord of the universe, who is the Father of Jesus. They call Jesus the Son of God, Messiah, Lord, Savior, Word, Wisdom. They assign Him the divine functions of creation, salvation, judgment. Sometimes they call Him God explicitly. They do not speak as fully and clearly of the Holy Spirit as they do of the Son, but at times they coordinate Him with the Father and the Son and put Him on a level with them as far as divinity and personality are concerned. They give us in their writings a triadic ground plan and triadic formulas. They do not speak in abstract terms of nature, substance, person, relation, circumincession, mission, but they present in their own ways the ideas that are behind these terms. They give us no formal or formulated doctrine of the Trinity, no explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons. But they do give us an elemental trinitarianism, the data from which such a formal doctrine of the Triune God may be formulated. [3. Edmund J Fortman, The Triune God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972),pp.xv-xvi]
The underlined fraction of the foregoing paragraph is all that is cited in the Trinity booklet. This abbreviated quote is found under the heading, “Testimony of the Greek Scriptures,” yet Fortman’s “testimony” concerning the Trinity and the New Testament— his firm belief that the doctrine is indeed rooted in the New Testament and that the NT writers even explicitly called Jesus God—has been severely abridged so the reader would get the impression that he believed the opposite. The same is true of other Trinitarian sources found in the Trinity booklet—they have all been judiciously “edited” to make it appear as though they support the WTBTS contentions when, in fact, they do not.
In addition to misrepresenting Bible believing Trinitarians, as we have already pointed out, many of the people and publications quoted in the Trinity booklet are liberal and deny, to one degree or another, the authority of the Bible, although the WTBTS does not reveal this to their readers. For example, they quote Hans Küng on page 4 of the booklet:
Catholic theologian Hans Küng observes in his book Christianity and the World Religions that the Trinity is one reason why the churches have been unable to make any significant headway with non-Christian peoples. He states: “Even well-informed Muslims simply cannot follow, as the Jews thus far have likewise failed to grasp, the idea of the Trinity…Muslims find it all a word game. . .”[4. Should You Believe in the Trinity? (Brooklyn, New York: WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC., 1989)4]
“Catholic Theologian” Hans Küng was censored by the Vatican in 1979—10 years before the WTBTS used him here—for his extreme liberal views. Küng was one of the bigger names behind the Parliament of the World’s Religions that was held here in Chicago in 1993. The intent of the Parliament was to proclaim the unity and essential equality of all religions and religious expressions—from Hindus and Muslims, to Liberal New Age “Christians,” and decidedly anti-Christian Wiccans. We referred to it as the Parliament of the World’s False Religions, as Biblical Christianity was not formally represented there.[5. We were there, along with a handful of other Christian apologists, to interview the attendees and to engage some of them in dialogue] They were also united by their absolute denial of absolute truth. ☺ It was a very “colorful” extravaganza with the Delai Lama himself showing up with many of his orange-robed followers, along with large herds of liberal clergymen—Catholic and Protestant— holding hands and preaching “tolerance” for all religious views, and with the Wiccans holding nightly ceremonies in a nearby park to “draw down the moon.” In fact, the only “religious expression” that was rejected (and openly ridiculed) by all those assembled worthies was Biblical Christianity with its “intolerant” insistence that there is such a thing as truth and that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. So while Küng does, in fact, deny the Trinity Doctrine, he also denies the Bible is exclusively the Word of God and that Christianity is the only true religion.
This background explains Küng’s remark about the Muslim’s and the Jew’s failure to “grasp the idea of the Trinity.” To Hans Küng, Islam and Judaism are merely alternate religious “paths” that are every bit as valid as Christianity—Liberal Christianity, that is. To Küng, Biblical Christianity is a backward (and even dangerous) religious expression that is a threat to worldwide religious unity. Ecumenism is Küng’s god, with “tolerance” his only commandment. Küng’s “god” is not THE God of the Bible, nor is his “Christianity” the Christianity of the Bible. We assert that everyone has the right to believe as they choose, but we fervently deny that any and all religious paths lead to the true God! It may, indeed, be politically incorrect to say this, but if Christianity is not the only true and only “path” to the true God, then Jesus Christ Himself was nothing but a liar. He is either the TRUTH as He claimed to be in John 14:6 when He said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me,” or He is just another false prophet—you must take your pick. Judaism rejects the Trinity because it rejects Christ; and when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, the remnant of Jews will recognize their Messiah as their God and, then will have no problem with the Trinity. As for the Muslims, they—like the poor deceived JWs—are following a false prophet, and it is one of their highest religious duties to reject the Trinity.
Adolph Harnack (on page 11) is another highly unreliable source when it comes to commenting on Biblical issues, since he was another theological Liberal. Harnack was skeptical about John’s authorship of the Book of John as well as doubting the authorship of other New Testament books. Of course, it is an easy matter to deny the Trinity once you have denied the Word of God. Arthur Weigall (on page 6), another Liberal, who wrote The Paganism in Our Christianity, denies the Virgin Birth of Christ, as well as His Resurrection, and states:
No Biblical scholar of any standing today, whether he be a clergyman, a minister, or a layman, accepts the entire New Testament as authentic; and all admit that many errors, misunderstandings and absurdities have crept into the story of Christ’s life and other matters. [6. Arthur Weigall, The Paganism in Our Christianity (London: New York, NY: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1928), pp.30-31]
Of course Weigall means that no Liberal scholar accepts the entire New Testament as authentic while a very large number of Conservative scholars do; but that’s another topic for another day. But why would a religious organization such as the Watchtower Society—that pays lip service to the authority and authenticity of the Bible—bed itself with Liberal scholars who deny the Scriptures? The answer, of course, is that Liberal scholars are the only ones who will agree with the WTBTS’s positions on so many doctrinal issues. And, cynically, they know that the average JW (and the folks they will meet at the doorstep) will have no idea that many of these quoted scholars deny the Scriptures. Such dishonesty is not unusual for the WTBTS—it is has been their modus operandi for many years. However, the JW’s Governing Body in Brooklyn must be a bit envious of Liberal scholars; after all, they work very hard twisting the Scriptures to reflect their viewpoint, while the Liberal scholars need only to declare as “inauthentic” the Scriptures they do not like!
Another Liberal, Levi Leonard Paine, quoted on page 12 of the Trinity booklet, states on page 269 of his book, A Critical History of the Evolution of Trinitarianism:
Is the Bible not to be reckoned among the media of divine revelation? Certainly; but not in the way in which the old theology would reckon it. Its presuppositions of a divine miraculous origin and character, differentiating the Bible from all other religious literature, can no longer be admitted. [7. Levi Leonard Paine, A Critical History of the Evolution of Trinitarianism by 1900, The Riverside Press, (Cambridge, MA: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, Boston and New York, p.269]
The very name of Paine’s book (not to be found in the Trinity booklet), A Critical History of the Evolution of Trinitarianism, should tell us where he is coming from. But here again, we have another example of the WTBTS giving credence to the viewpoint of someone who dishonors and rejects the Bible!
Next, we have their use of Unitarians Alvan Lamson (The Church of the First Three Centuries) and Andrews Norton (A Statement of Reasons) to prove their case that Trinitarianism is not true. Duh! Does anyone think a UNItarian would agree that TRINItarianism is correct? The WTBTS has the right to quote Unitarians in their little booklet, but it certainly would be nice if they identified them as being Unitarians, so we could take that fact into consideration as we read wat they have to say. But besides that—and I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record—Unitarians deny the authority of the Bible! Could it be possible that the Society does not know Unitarians reject the Word of God? No, they are well aware of what Unitarians believe!
In the 1945 WTBTS book, Theocratic Aid to Kingdom Publishers, they state about Unitarians:
In rightly rejecting the “trinity” fable, they go to an unscriptural extreme in the other direction. They believe that not only was Jesus just a man but he was born naturally to Joseph and Mary. They do not recognize Jesus’ miraculous birth nor his death as sacrificial. They believe salvation comes through human endeavors along character- developing line…The Bible is held in high esteem, but it is not considered as God’s inspired and infallible Word. [8. Theocratic Aid to Kingdom Publishers (Brooklyn, New York: WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC., 1945), p.354] (See also Awake!** 11-08-52).
Again, WHY would a supposedly Bible-based religion give credence to the doctrinal views of people whom they know reject God’s Word? If you are writing a booklet on quilt making, it does not matter at all if you quote Unitarians, Liberals and others who reject the Bible. But if your subject matter is Bible doctrine, it then becomes rather essential to quote people who believe that the Bible, in its entirety, is the Word of God at the very least!
The Trinity Doctrine Is Confusing And Beyond Reason
On page 4 the booklet states:
Many sincere believers have found it [the Trinity] to be confusing, contrary to normal reason, unlike anything in their experience. How, they ask, could the Father be God, Jesus be God, and the holy spirit be God, yet there be not three Gods but only one God? [9. Theocratic Aid to Kingdom Publishers (Brooklyn, New York: WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC., 1945), p.4]
They then quote 1 Corinthians 14:33 (on page 5)—“God is not a God of confusion,” and say:
In view of that statement, would God be responsible for a doctrine about himself that is so confusing that even Hebrew, Greek, and Latin scholars cannot really explain it? [10. Theocratic Aid to Kingdom Publishers (Brooklyn, New York: WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC., 1945), p.5]
One pleasant aspect of leading a cult is the ability to create a god who “makes sense” and confuses no one. Of course, such a god would have to be very small and uncomplicated—eternality, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence would have to go, which is exactly why the cults throw out those confusing “inconveniences” along with God’s tri-personal nature. But if reason is our sole guide, is it reasonable to insist that the Creator of the Universe must, of necessity, be like anything within man’s experience and fully understandable and explainable by our finite minds? Of course not, God is a different life-form. ☺
Cultic doctrines are born of Bible “difficulties”—things taught in the Bible that are beyond the capacity of human yardsticks or scales to measure and weigh. One stumbling block to understanding the full Deity of Christ is the fact that the Father generated the Son, and yet, Father and Son are co-eternal. There was never a time when the Son did not exist. Is that impossible or just beyond our finite understanding?
It’s funny that we are all perfectly willing to accept the fact fire possesses properties unlike the properties of human nature, even though the average person has no idea of how it “works.” Here’s an experiment you can try at home: You’ll need two candles—one to represent the Father and one the Son. You can add a third to represent the Holy Spirit if you like. Ignore the candles—it is the flames we are examining—the candles are just the holders. Light the first candle, and then see how the original flame can generate another upon the second candle. One flame so easily becomes two, yet the first is not diminished. Also, the fire making up the original flame is no “older” than the fire on the generated one. They are the same exact age. Now put the flames together again. Impossible! How can the two be one? Yet, we all believe it. We do not insist that fire cannot exist as it does—that it must fit within the framework of what is possible for human beings. Fire does not possess human nature, which explains why it acts more like fire than like a man! I am not saying that God is fire; only that fire is a well-known entity that does not conform to our nature, yet it is not rejected for that reason. Fire is widely accepted just as it is, but imagine how difficult it would be to try to explain fire to someone who was unfamiliar with it. God is what He is. We do not have the luxury of making up a god that must operate within the bounds of our limited nature. We are finite, God is infinite. Just as a finite human parent begets a finite human child, an infinite Eternal Father begets an infinite Eternal Son. The true God does not possess the nature of man and so does not have to conform to our “way of being.” We must just accept God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible—and the Bible teaches that there is only one God yet, without flinching, asserts there are three divine persons within that Godhead.
But what about 1 Corinthians 14:33? Does it really teach the nature of God must be easy for us to understand? No. As is normal with their twisting of Scripture, the WTBTS’s misuse of 1 Corinthians 14:33 becomes apparent when we look at the context. The chapter is addressing the Corinthian problem of chaos in the church services—people speaking in tongues that no one there could interpret, or rudely speaking out of turn or when others were speaking. Paul is reprimanding this behavior, saying that God does not approve of confusion in the service that should be sober and worshipful. As we read in the New International Version:
For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33, NIV)
Chapter 14 ends with Paul exhorting the Corinthians to conduct themselves in a “…fitting and orderly way.” God likes order— not chaos. As far as doctrine goes, however, Peter outright states in 2 Peter 3:16 that some of Paul’s teachings are “hard to understand which ignorant and unstable people distort…to their own destruction.” So, just because some doctrines may be hard to understand, even to the point where false teachers can distort them, does not make them untrue.
Finally, the WTBTS states on page 148 of Reasoning from the Scriptures (Reasoning AWAY the Scriptures would be a better title), concerning the eternality of God, that just because our mind cannot fully comprehend the doctrine and finds it unreasonable is no reason to reject the eternal nature of God. How true!
Then on page 149 they ask rhetorically:
Should we really expect to understand everything about a Person who is so great that he could bring into existence the universe, with all its intricate design and stupendous size? [11. Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn, New York: WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC., 1985), p.149]
I find there is very little about which I can agree with the Watchtower Society, but in the interest of fairness, I have to say: When they’re right, they’re right! ☺
Is The Trinity Clearly A Bible Teaching?
If the Trinity were true, it should be clearly and consistently presented in the Bible. [12. Should You Believe in the Trinity? (Brooklyn, New York: WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC., 1989) p 5]
Even though it is true, as the Trinity booklet points out, that the word Trinity is not to be found in the pages of Scripture, the doctrine certainly is “clearly and consistently presented” there, as was Edmund Fortman’s’ point. The Bible asserts there is but ONE God, and yet also claims that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit —all three—that ONE God! Hard to understand? Perhaps. Unbiblical, no! What people need to understand is that the Bible is not a theology book with a chapter explaining the nature of God, the nature of man, and so on. We might wish it to be so, but it is not that way. Bible scholars throughout the centuries who read the Scriptures carefully and systematically—comparing Scripture with Scripture, armed with a cultural understanding of the times in which it was written, and a knowledge of the language and grammar—have arrived at theological systems and put this information down in theology books. The Bible itself just makes certain assertions—human beings have to figure out how it fits together! Theology is the study of God or things divine. Christology is the study of Christ.
Incidentally, the WTBTS has a Christology of its own, but you would never know it by reading the Trinity booklet. They believe and teach that Jesus Christ is Michael the Archangel— both before he was born as a man and again now after his resurrection. Can we find that doctrine “clearly and consistently presented” in the Bible—that Jesus is Michael? No, Michael is only mentioned a few times in the Bible, and it never claims that Michael and Jesus are the same person. In order to arrive at that conclusion, you must read the WATCHTOWER** magazine or the WTBTS’s own theology book, Insight on the Scriptures. So ineffectual and weak is their argument that you will be hard pressed to find a JW who is willing to even make an attempt to prove that Jesus is Michael using the Scriptures.
When discussing this subject of the Deity of Christ with a JW, we always insist that they also defend the WTBTS’s teaching about Jesus being Michael from the Bible. One JW elder, who only wanted to “play offense,” told me that the Watchtower Society does not teach that Jesus is Michael! Incredible! He stuck to his story until I produced the documentation (a photocopy of the Feb.1, 1994 WATCHTOWER, pg. 6) proving that they do, in fact, teach that! How can JWs demand that we prove the Deity of Christ from the Scriptures, and yet, be unable and unwilling to prove their own Christology from the Bible?
Moreover, as I have already said, the Trinity booklet informs us of all the reasons why Jesus cannot be God without even mentioning, let alone making their case, that Jesus is Michael. Why is that, do you suppose?
Do The Ante-Nicene Fathers Agree With The Watchtower Society?
The Watchtower Society dances the “two-story two-step” when it comes to the Ante-Nicene Fathers. Story #1 is employed when it seems convenient to infer that the early Fathers were the “early Christians” [13. The booklet refers to the ante-Nicene Fathers as “the early Christians” on the last page of the Trinity booklet. Keep in mind that in order to be considered a Christian, one needs to be a JW. There are no true Christians outside of the WTBTS organization. If these men were Christians, though, when and how did the Great Apostasy develop?] doctrinally with the Church of today. They need this connection to the early days— some connection, as it were, with Jesus and his Apostles—so they do not appear as just another Johnny-come-lately, nineteenth-century, anti-Christian, religious cult, which, in fact, they are. ☺ The Trinity booklet contains a fine example of Story #1 on page 7 which presents a list of Ante-Nicene Fathers and makes it appear—through linguistic sleight-of-hand—that these men, who were closer in time to Jesus and His teachings, believed pretty much as the WTBTS does today.
Story #2 comes into play when it becomes necessary to explain why the WTBTS—calling itself a Christian organization—rejects all essential Christian doctrine as understood and taught for 1900+ years. This is when the WTBTS claims that the people who came on the scene soon after the death of the Apostles (the Ante-Nicene Fathers!) apostatized from the true Christian faith—which the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society thankfully “restored” when they came on the scene in the late-nineteenth century. These Ante-Nicene apostates are to blame for the infusion of Pagan philosophy into the Church, at which point the Christian Church became “Christendom.” More on Story #2 later, right now we’ll look at their portrayal of Story #1—that the Ante-Nicene Fathers believed similarly to the WTBTS when it comes to the nature of God and Christ.
The ante-Nicene Fathers were acknowledged to have been leading religious teachers in the early centuries after Christ’s birth. What they taught is of interest. Justin Martyr, who died about 165 C.E., called the prehuman Jesus a created angel who is “other than the God who made all things.”[14. Should You Believe …, p.7]
Really? Justin Martyr called Jesus a created angel? Justin identifies Jesus, the Son of God, with “the Angel of the LORD” Who appeared to men in the OT times, but never refers to Him as a created being. Let’s look at Justin Martyr’s own words.
…the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets; but now in the times of your reign, having, as we before said, become Man by a virgin. . . [15. Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, rev. by A. Cleveland Coxe,vol. I (1884; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p.184]… but now you will permit me first to recount the prophecies, which I wish to do in order to prove that Christ is called both God and Lord of hosts. . . [16. Justin Martyr, “Dialogue with Trypho,” in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, rev. by A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. I (1884; reprint,Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p.212]
Like Justin Martyr, we believe Christ appeared as the Angel of the LORD to Moses and other Old Testament saints, but also like Justin, we believe Him to be WHO He said He is—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! In fact, the “Angel of the LORD” is the person who identifies Himself by the name of YHWH in Exodus 3:1-14!
What about Irenaeus? According to the Trinity booklet:
Irenaeus…showed that Jesus is not equal to the “One true and only God,” who is “supreme over all, and besides whom there is no other.” [17. Should You Believe …, p.7]
Irenaeus believed that the Father is the head of Christ just as the Bible teaches, and as we also believe. But keep in mind headship does not imply superiority of nature. Women are under the headship of their husbands, but they are not inferior to them. Men and women share the nature of humanity. But as to Christ’s nature, Irenaeus believed, as we do, that Jesus Christ is God.
3. Therefore, by remitting sins, He did indeed heal man, while He also manifested Himself who He was. For if no one can forgive sins but God alone, while the Lord remitted them and healed men, it is plain that He was Himself the Word of God made the Son of man, receiving from the Father the power of remission of sins; since He was man, and since He was God, in order that since as man He suffered for us, so as God He might have compassion on us, and forgive us our debts, in which we were made debtors to God, our Creator. [18. Irenaeus, “Irenaeus Against Heresies,” in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, rev. by A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. I (1884; reprint,Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p.545]
Next, we have Clement of Alexandria as portrayed in the Trinity booklet:
Clement of Alexandria, who died about 215 C.E. called Jesus in his pre-human existence “a creature” but called God “the uncreated and imperishable and only true God.” He said that the Son “is next to the only omnipotent Father” but not equal to him. [19. Trinity, p.7]
Did Clement consider Jesus to be unequal to the Father—a mere creature? It doesn’t seem so from what he said here:
What therefore he says, “from the beginning,” the Presbyter explained to this effect, that the beginning of generation is not separated from the beginning of the Creator. For when he says, “That which was from the beginning,” he touches upon the generation without beginning of the Son, who is co-existent with the Father. There was, then, a Word importing an unbeginning eternity; as also the Word itself, that is, the Son of God, who being, by equality of substance, one with the Father, is eternal and uncreate. [20. Clement of Alexandria, “Fragments from Cassiodorus,” in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, rev. by A. Cleveland Coxe,vol. II (1884; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p.574]
Clement was making the point that Jesus—although “generated” or begotten of the Father—was generated “without beginning” and is, therefore, as eternal as the Father and not created. After misrepresenting Clement’s views, the Trinity booklet goes on to deliver the bombshell that:
Tertullian, who died about 230 C.E., taught the supremacy of God. He observed: “The Father is different from the Son (another), as he is greater; as he who begets is different from him who is begotten; he who sends, different from him who is sent.”[21. Should You Believe …, p.7]
Oh, NO! Tertullian believed the Father and the Son are different persons? Well, duh! Trinitarians—like Tertullian and like us—believe there are different persons within the nature of the Godhead—three of them, in fact! That’s why Trinitarians happily sing the Holy, Holy, Holy hymn that concludes with “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.” Remember that old song? The Father is the First Person, the Son is the Second Person, and the Holy Spirit is the Third Person all of whom have the same nature. It’s hard to believe the WTBTS thinks this is such a big secret! Well, besides the shocking news that Tertullian seems to believe there is more than one person in the Godhead, what else did he have to say about the nature of God?
If the number of the Trinity also offends you, as if it were not connected in the simple Unity, I ask you how it is possible for a Being who is merely and absolutely One and Singular, to speak in the plural phrase, saying, “Let us make man in our image, and after our own likeness;” whereas He ought to have said, “Let me make man in my own image, and after my own likeness;” as being a unique and singular Being?…He is either deceiving or amusing us in speaking plurally, if He is One only and singular. Or was it to the angels that He spoke, as the Jews interpret the passage, because these also acknowledge not the Son?…Nay, it was because He had already His Son close at His side, as a second Person, His own Word, and a third Person also, the Spirit in the Word, that He purposely adopted the plural phrase…[22. Tertullian, “Against Praxeas,” in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, rev. by A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. III (1884; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p.606]We have been taught that He proceeds forth from God, and 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 Spirit. Even when the ray is shot from the sun, it 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, but 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 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, is in His birth God and man united. [23. Tertullian, “Apology,” in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., THE ANTENICENEFATHERS, rev. by A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. III (1884; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), pp.34-35]
This next quote by Hippolytus is the one I most love to show JWs at the kitchen table, along with a photocopy of Hippolytus’actual words, because even the most militantly obtuse JW has no choice but to recognize that Hippolytus believed the opposite of what the WTBTS claims he believed. According to the WTBTS:
Hippolytus, who died about 235 C.E., said that God is “the one God, the first and the only One, the Maker and Lord of all,” who “had nothing co-eval [of equal age] with him…But he was One, alone by himself; who willing it, called into being what had no being before,” such as the created pre-human Jesus. [24. Should You Believe …, p.7]
What Hippolytus actually said is:
God, subsisting alone, and having nothing contemporaneous with Himself, determined to create the world. And conceiving the world in mind, and willing and uttering the word, He made it; and straightway it appeared, formed as it had pleased Him…Beside Him there was nothing; but He, while existing alone, yet existed in plurality. [25. Hippolytus, “Against the Heresy of One Noetus,” in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, rev. by A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. V (1884; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p.227]
God, before the creation of anything, existed in plurality! There can be no doubt that the WTBTS knows what Hippolytus actually taught and deliberately edited this out of their deceitful “quotation.” So when they close this section on the Ante-Nicene Fathers with the statement that “the testimony of the Bible and of history makes clear that the Trinity was unknown throughout Biblical times and for several centuries thereafter,” [26. Should You Believe …, p.7] they show themselves to be shameless liars.
Story #2—The Great Apostasy
Gather around, children. We’re about to hear the story about how the Christian Church became nasty old “Christendom.”
This disreputable history of the Trinity fits in with what Jesus and his apostles foretold would follow their time. They said that there would be an apostasy, a deviation, a falling away from true worship until Christ’s return, when true worship would be restored before God’s day of destruction of this system of things.[27. Should You Believe …, p.9]Throughout the ancient world, as far back as Babylonia, the worship of pagan gods grouped in threes, or triads, was common…And after the death of the apostles, such pagan beliefs began to invade Christianity. [28. Should You Believe …, p.11]
Let’s put on our thinking caps: Who was it again that came on the scene right after the death of the Apostles? Yes, the Ante-Nicene Fathers—the very ones we have just been told did not believe in the Trinity! Are we confused yet? Anyway, to prove their assertion that the Trinity doctrine originated from Pagan sources some unspecified amount of time after the death of the Apostles, they quote The New Schaff-HerzoEncyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (NSHERK) which states:
The doctrines of the Logos and the Trinity received their shape from Greek Fathers, who…were much influenced, directly or indirectly, by the Platonic philosophy… [29. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed., vol. IX (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1957) , p.91]
Now, strangely enough, the booklet does not identify the “Greek Fathers” who, according to NSHERK, were influenced by Platonic philosophy, but the encyclopedia does identify them by name:
Among the most illustrious of the Fathers who were more or less Platonic, may be named Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen… [30. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed., vol. IX (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1957) , p.91]
The foregoing follows just two sentences after the portion the booklet quotes—so why would they have left out this important information? They omitted it because it would make them look silly, having just portrayed Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Clement,and Origen as their “good guys” who supposedly did not believe in the “Pagan” Trinity. But wait, there’s more—NSHERK has this to say about the WTBTS’s premise that the Trinity derived from Pagan sources:
There is no reason to seek for sources or types of the doctrine of the Trinity outside of Christianity or of the Bible, though in the eighteenth century efforts were made to derive the Christian dogma from Plato, and later from Brahmanism and Parseeism, or later still, from a Babylonian triad. Even were the resemblance between the Christian Trinity and the pagan triads far greater than it is, there could be no question of borrowing.[31. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed., vol. IX (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1957) , p.19]
Now we have to wonder what the encyclopedia meant when it asserted that the Logos and the Trinity doctrines “received their shape” from the Greek Fathers. Obviously they did not mean, as the WTBTS would have us believe, that the doctrine itself was borrowed or derived from Plato or other sources, because they outright reject that theory as just quoted above. The early Church writers merely used the philosophical language of the day to explain the Biblical concepts about the nature of God and Christ to the Greco-Roman culture to whom they were addressing and ministering.
The Apostle Paul, while trying to explain God’s omnipresence and great superiority over the Pagan gods, cited a Pagan source saying, “…As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17:28, NIV) Did Paul “borrow” or derive his Doctrine of God from the Athenian Pagans, or merely use a cultural reference with which his hearers were familiar to explain to them a Biblical concept.
We do the same when we write—we use cultural references and the common language, stories, and movies of the American culture of our day to draw analogies to Biblical truth.
These early Church writers were mere men—their writings were not inspired and their words are not “Scripture” by any means—so we do not have to accept everything they write as “Gospel truth.” However, they took very seriously their responsibility to preserve and defend the faith “once for all entrusted”—not lost and “restored” in the nineteenth century—“to the Saints.” (Jude 3, NIV)
When you read the epistles and other compositions of the early Church fathers, the first thing you will notice is the prodigious amount of Scripture they used in making their case. The second thing you’ll notice is that they were NOT JWs! ☺ They don’t mention “Jehovah’s Organization,” the Governing Body, time cards, Circuit Overseers, or Special Pioneers; nor do they speak of peddling WATCHTOWER magazines from door to door! Plus they exhibit in their writings a pleasing humility, something not found in the publications of the WTBTS. You will not hear them constantly extolling their own virtues and greatness as the Watchtower Society shamelessly does. They direct devotion to Christ—not to themselves! Contrast the Ante-Nicene writer’s humility with the outrageous arrogance of the Governing Body in making these statements:
“And while now the witness yet includes the invitation to come to Jehovah’s organization for salvation.” [32. “Stay Awake and Keep Your Senses,” THE WATCHTOWER, (Nov. 15, 1981), p.21]“We need his spirit and we need his word, but we also need the benefits of his organization if we are [33. “Recognizing the Part Played by Jehovah’s Organization,” THE WATCHTOWER (Sept. 15, 1967), p.560]…Jehovah God caused the Bible to be written in such a way that one needs to come in touch with His human channel before one can fully and accurately understand it. True, we need the help of God’s holy spirit, but its help also comes to us primarily by association with the channel Jehovah God sees fit to use. [34. “Do We Need Help to Understand the Bible?,” THE WATCHTOWER(Feb. 15, 1981), p.17]
Another quote the WTBTS offers in support of their accusation that the Trinity originated from Pagan sources comes from historian Will Durant who claims that:
“Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it.” [35. Will Durant, “The Apostles,” The Story of Civilization: Part III, Caesar and Christ (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1944), p.595]
But, as usual, we had better look closely at what else Durant may have had to say on the subject. Here is, as Paul Harvey says, the rest of the story…Durant said it was the Apostle John—not big bad Christendom—who originally merged Christianity with Greek mysticism and philosophy! States Durant:
It seems incredible that the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel should have come from the same hand. The Apocalypse is Jewish poetry, the Fourth Gospel is Greek philosophy. Perhaps the apostle wrote Revelation in justifiable wrath after Nero’s persecution, and the Gospel in the mellow metaphysics of his old age…His memories of the Master may by this time have faded a bit, so far as one could ever forget Jesus; and doubtless in the isles and cities of Ionia he had heard many an echo of Greek mysticism and philosophy. [36. Will Durant, “The Apostles,” The Story of Civilization: Part III, Caesar and Christ (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1944), p.594]
The snippet of Durant the WTBTS quoted is found on the very next page from the one above! Is it reasonable to believe that the WTBTS did not have any idea that Durant was claiming the paganism that Christianity supposedly adopted came in through the Apostle John? Call me doubting Thomas, but I don’t find that credible. I believe they know exactly what Durant was saying, but they didn’t care, as long as there was a fragment that they could rip from its context and use to slander the Church and discredit the Trinity. When it comes to the Watchtower Society, we had always better check out the rest of the story unless we are looking to have the wool pulled over our eyes.
It’s a similar story concerning Siegfried Morenz, the author of Egyptian Religion, [37. Seigfried Morenz, Egyptian Religion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973)] who is quoted on page 11 of the Trinity booklet. While it is true Morenz speculates that the Trinity doctrine is of Egyptian derivation; he also believes other concepts, phrases, and teachings of the Bible originate in Egyptian religion—like the Biblical chronicle of David and Solomon, the Proverbs of Solomon, the Creation of the world “through the Word of the Creator,” and more. In short, if we are to accept Morenz’ conjecture that the Trinity doctrine is of Egyptian derivation, mustn’t we accept his other unfortunate suppositions as well?
The Trinity Doctrine Was Not Concocted, But Merely Codified By The Church
…it took centuries from the time of Christ for the Trinity to become accepted in Christendom. And in all of this, what guided the decisions? Was it the Word of God, or was it clerical and political considerations?[38. Should You Believe …, p.9]
The WTBTS (along with most other anti-Trinitarians) argues that since the doctrine was codified at the Council of Nicea, the early Church Fathers just grabbed the concept out of either Pagan tradition or thin air. This is simply not true. The Council of Nicea was called to combat Arius, who arose with the heretical idea that Christ was a created being who was brought into existence by the Father at some point in time. At Nicea, the Church merely formalized the creed that confirmed what the Church had been teaching up tothat time in order to expose Arius’ false view. For the first three centuries, there was no argument about Jesus’ deity—all Christians believed He was God—so there was no need to formally declare it to be so. It was only when the doctrine was challenged by Arius and those with him that it became necessary to codify the teaching and work out the exact language that would best explain precisely what the Bible taught and the Church believed about the relationship between the Father and the Son. They didn’t make up the concept, but the language used to identify the concept. [39. The earliest battle about the nature of Christ was for Christians to prove that Jesus was also human as well as God. The Gnostics denied His humanity, because they believed all matter was evil, and therefore, God could not touch matter. So they believed God sent out emanations from Himself and one of those emanations was “Christ” who settled on the man Jesus at His baptism and departed from Him (Jesus) at His Crucifixion]
As to refuting the WTBTS’s contention that the doctrine was the result of early Christians becoming influenced by Pagan ideas, we need look no further than The Encyclopedia Americana that the Society misuses in this very booklet to make their case that the doctrine is unreasonable and too confusing to be true. They say on page 4:
This confusion is widespread. The Encyclopedia Americana notes that the doctrine of the Trinity is considered to be “beyond the grasp of human reason.”[40. Should You Believe …, p.4]
What they left out of that quotation is of more interest and speaks more to the point at hand than what they put in, as is usually the case with WTBTS “quotations” of scholars and scholarly tomes. Here is the quote in context:
It is held that although the doctrine is beyond the grasp of human reason, it is, like many of the formulations of physical science, not contrary to reason, and may be apprehended (though it may not be comprehended) by the human mind. [41. The Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 27(New York, NY: Americana Corporation, 1977), p.116]
That puts a little different spin on what the encyclopedia had to say about the unreasonableness of the Trinity. But what The Encyclopedia Americana goes on to say in the very next paragraph is that:
It is probably a mistake to assume that the doctrine resulted from the intrusion of Greek metaphysics or philosophy into Christian thought; for the data upon which the doctrine rests, and also its earliest attempts at formulation, are much older than the church’s encounter with Greek philosophy. The earliest development of the doctrine may in fact be viewed as an attempt to preserve the balance between the various statements of Scripture, or their implications, without yielding to views which, though logical enough, would have destroyed or abandoned important areas of Christian belief. [42. The Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 27(New York, NY: Americana Corporation, 1977), p.116.]
It is also odd that although they cast aspersions on the Trinity because the doctrine was developed over time (as heretical men rose up against the teaching), their supposedly Biblically based doctrines are still being developed as we speak! The leadership in Brooklyn New York is constantly receiving “new light” that outright contradicts what they taught yesterday as truth from God. The poor JWs have to run to keep up with all the changes in the WTBTS’s “Bible-based” doctrines. In fact, their own Christology—the Jesus=Michael doctrine— is one of the teachings that has developed over time. Their founder, C.T. Russell (president from 1884-1916), taught that Jesus Christ could not be Michael, which means that their current Christology is less than one hundred years old! So please do not allow them to condemn your beliefs on the basis that Church doctrine developed over time. It took them 1900 years (if you accept their absurd claim that their organization originated with Jesus Christ in 33AD) to figure out who they think Jesus is today!
The WTBTS asserts, on the opening page of this little booklet, that “there are good reasons why you should want to know the truth about the Trinity.” It should be obvious by now that you are not going to get the truth about the Trinity from this source. Although they claim to be the only true Christians, the WTBTS is not an organization of truth. So far we have looked mainly at the WTBTS’s misuse of scholars and quotations that appear in this booklet. In the next issue of the Journal, we intend to answer the Watchtower Society’s supposed Biblical objections to the Trinity and the Deity of Christ.
If you would like to have a photocopy of these misquoted sources in their context so you can share this information with a JW friend or the JW who comes to your door, please call our Lombard, Illinois Office (630) 627-9028, or e-mail us at email@example.com to request these documents.
Keep in mind, though, before using these documents, that the JW that knocks on your door is not “the enemy.” God loves that person as much as He loves you and me—that is why He sent them to your door. Most of them are totally unaware of the deceitfulness of this widely disseminated booklet. They truly believe they are serving Jehovah God by slavishly serving the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Their eternal destiny, in their minds, depends upon their faithful service to the “anointed brothers” in Brooklyn. Incredibly the WTBTS has told them:
Your attitude toward the wheatlike anointed brothers of Christ, and the treatment you accord them will be the determining factor as to whether you go into “everlasting cutting off” or receive “everlasting life.” Prove yourself to be a loyal companion of the anointed “wheat” class, the “faithful and discreet slave,” whom Christ has appointed to provide spiritual “food at the proper time.” [43. “Harvesting in the ‘Time of the End’,” THE WATCHTOWER, (Aug. 1, 1981) p.26]
Think about it—the “attitude” the individual JW accords the leadership and how they treat them determines their eternal destiny;and they also are taught that to even question the WTBTS is to be disloyal to God.
If we do not see a point at first we should keep trying to grasp it, rather than opposing and rejecting it and presumptuously taking the position that we are more likely to be right than the discreet slave. We should meekly go along with the Lord’s theocratic organization and wait for further clarification, rather than balk at the first mention of a thought unpalatable to us and proceed to quibble and mouth our criticisms and opinions as though they were worth more than the slave’s provision of spiritual food. Theocratic ones will appreciate the Lord’s visible organization and not be so foolish as to pit against Jehovah’s channel their own human reasoning and sentiment and personal feelings.” [44. “Jehovah’s Theocratic Organization Today,” THE WATCHTOWER, (Feb. 1, 1952), pp. 79-80.]…any among Jehovah’s people who indulge in independent and contrary teaching imitate, not God, but Satan the Devil. [45. “Loyally Submitting to Theocratic Order,” THE WATCHTOWER, (June 1, 1982), p.17]
Can you understand why it can be so hard to share the Gospel or discuss the Bible with a JW? They are wearing WATCHTOWER glasses. He (or she) has been persuaded that by merely giving an honest ear to what you have to say, he is indulging in independent and contrary teaching, which could cost him his eternal life!
That is where this documentation comes in—not to enable you to humiliate an adversary, but to perhaps, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and with the care and compassion that you would want to be shown if the situation was reversed—open their blind eyes to the true nature of the ravenous wolf they serve. You want to raise this question in their minds: How can such dishonesty be of God? How can such a dishonest group really be “Jehovah’s Organization?” If you can, through careful exposition of the WTBTS’s falsehoods, bring them to the point where they dare to question whether the WTBTS really is “Jehovah’s Organization.” Then you can progress to discussing the Scriptures with them, so you can introduce them to the God of Grace and the true Jesus Who is the only Savior. May God bless your efforts to witness to these lost souls who cross your path.
Love to all,
(Part 2 Answering Objections to the Deity of Christ of the Winter 2004 Journal)