Saturday, January 8, 2011

Answering the Watchtower on the Trinity

Answering the Watchtower on the Trinity

By Dennis A.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I. A Brief Introduction

The purpose of this article is not only to challenge the JW in their view of Unitarianism, but also to challenge each Christian to think critically about the texts. When we utilize critical thinking skills, it allows us to think clearly and make judgements without relying on a priori, an appeal to emotions, or an appeal to authority. When judgements are clouded, we often tend to become apt to committing logical fallacies in our thoughts, and this is often imprinted within our arguments. Christians must be cognizant of these common fallacies within an argument, or premise. We should also make it our intention to study logic more in-depth. We can make an argument much stronger, clearer and more concise based upon supporting evidence—both internal and external to the case. This is determinative in our study of epistemology.

Christian’s seek to find objective truth in the scriptures, and during our systematic studies of theology and epistemology. The author’s viewpoint is the adjudicating factor to finding the true meaning of the verse. We must also recognize that just because an institution declares a doctrinal statement, does not make it objective truth. We must articulate the doctrine through scripture, and delineate scripture in a historical-grammatical context. With that premise explicated, I will address the Watchtower article “Should you Believe it?”

Introjection and Projection

We should not believe in the Trinity purely from an introjection standpoint. Introjection is the internalization of a parent, or other influential figure(s) (and their values) which can lead one making a decision by an appeal to these influences. Projection is a defense mechanism by which your own traits and emotions are attributed to someone else. For example, when one states that they hate hypocrites. When a statement like this is made—by implication the person themselves are also a hypocrite similarly. Moreover, this person disfavors hypocritical behavior (in themselves), and in turn would be pre-judging another based upon this disapproval. We should be aware of projection (on both sides) when we proselytize to non-believers.

In the Bible, we are told to test and prove all things; hold fast that which is good in 1Thes 5:21. We are to search for objective truths. Objective truth can be defined as truth that exists, whether we believe it or not. Truth is not based upon an appeal to emotions, by popularity, introjection, projection, or by what is necessarily held by an institution or members of a group. The Trinity, Should you believe it?

Early beliefs of Christ

During the early growth of Christianity, there have been a few different views on whom Christ was and is. Christians and non-Christians alike have struggled with who Christ was. Here are a few of those beliefs before the Council of Nicea. [1]

Early Trinitarianism Heresies:

1. Ebionism

2. Docetism

3. Dynamic Monarchianism (Adoptionism)

4. Modalistic Monarchianism (Sabellianism)

5. Arianism

Ebionism: Denied the deity of Christ, but accepted Him as the prophet of Deut. 18:15: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”

Docetism: From the Greek, dokeo, “to seem, think, or appear.” Belief of a “Christian” sect of Gnostics that Christ was an emanation from the true good God. Christ was not truly a man, since all things material are inherently evil. Therefore, Christ only “seemed” to have a body. (Also known as Marcionism)

Adoptionalism: Belief that Christ was “adopted” as God’s son at His baptism when the Logos of God indwelled him. The Logos and the Holy Spirit are both impersonal forces of God. (Also known as Dynamic Monarchianism)

Modalism: Belief that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all different expressions, roles, or manifestations of the one true God. (Also known as Sabellianism, Partipassionism, Modalistic Monarchianism)

Arianism: Belief that Christ is not God but a creation of God the Father, having his genesis/“begotteness” in eternity past. He is the first created being. Arians’ fought against both Modalism and Adoptionism. (Athanasius (ca. 296–373), condemned at the Council of Nicea, 325).

Nicene Creed 325, 381 AD

“…We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty [pantokratora], creator of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten [pro panton ton aionon] of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of the same essence [homoousion] with the Father”.

Athanansius viewed begotten of the same essence as the term “homoousion” and Arius viewed begotten of the same essence as the term “homoiusios” [of like substance]

We must also understand that there also was great tension between the east and west believers about the nature of the Trinity. For example, the east accused West of Sabellianism/Modalism and the west accused East of Arianism/Tritheism.

Some of this tension still exists even today in our culture. This conflict was in reality resolved during the Council of Nicea. During this Council, Bishops gathered to vote on the issue of who Jesus was. The vote was nearly unanimous with 300+ Bishops accepting the divine nature of Christ, and only two Bishops siding with Arian during this vote at the Council of Nicea. Sit down--Dan Brown, the vote was no where near close.

Here is a quote from the JW website from the Trinity, should you believe it article:
"Various Trinitarian concepts exist. But generally the Trinity teaching is that in the Godhead there are three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; yet, together they are but one God. The doctrine says that the three are coequal, almighty, and uncreated, having existed eternally in the Godhead."
"Others, however, say that the Trinity doctrine is false, that Almighty God stands alone as a separate, eternal, and all-powerful being. They say that Jesus in his pre-human existence was, like the angels, a separate spirit person created by God, and for this reason, he must have had a beginning. They teach that Jesus has never been Almighty God's equal in any sense; he has always been subject to God and still is. They also believe that the Holy Ghost is not a person but God's spirit, his active force." [2]

The watchtower is correct in that there seems to be many views on the doctrine of the Trinity, even from the very earliest of views. The Bible is our source for authority so let’s see what the book of Hebrews states about Jesus and the Angels: [NET Bible]

Heb1:3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 1:4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs. 1:5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my son! Today I have fathered you”? And in another place he says, “I will be his father and he will be my son.” 1:6 But when he again brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all the angels of God worship him!” 1:7 And he says of the angels, “He makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire,” 1:8 but of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 1:9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. So God, your God, has anointed you over your companions with the oil of rejoicing.” 1:10 And, “You founded the earth in the beginning, Lord, and the heavens are the works of your hands. 1:11 They will perish, but you continue. And they will all grow old like a garment, 1:12 and like a robe you will fold them upand like a garment they will be changed, but you are the same and your years will never run out.” 1:13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

Hebrews 2:9 but we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone.
(1) in the context the Son is being contrasted to the angels and is presented as far better than they. The imagery of God being the Son’s throne would seem to be of God being his authority. If so, in what sense could this not be said of the angels? In what sense is the Son thus contrasted with the angels? (2) The μέν…δέ (men…de) construction that connects v. 7 with v. 8 clearly lays out this contrast: “On the one hand, he says of the angels…on the other hand, he says of the Son.” Thus, although it is grammatically possible that θεός (qeos) in v. 8 should be taken as a predicate nominative, the context and the correlative conjunctions are decidedly against it. Hebrews 1:8 is thus a strong affirmation of the deity of Christ. [3]

Christ’s Humanity

First let’s look at the different views of Christ’s humanity from the early excogitations. Each view will be defined by sect, and then the heretical bent that each view espouses.

Roman Catholics: Christ is both fully divine and fully man. The controlling force within Christ was His deity. He had neither faith, nor hope, since this would undermine His deity. Even from His mother’s womb, He was aware of all things, being omniscient. He exercised all the attributes of His deity at all times during His life.

Heretical Bent: Apollinarianism and Docetism (condemned in Council of Constantinople 381)

Apollinarianism: The belief that Christ was God who took on a human body without a human mind. The divine mind took the place of what would have been the human mind. The Word became flesh only in the sense that God took on a human body. As some have termed it, Christ was “God in a bod.” [TTP cf.]

Lutheran: Christ is both fully divine and fully man. In the incarnation, Christ’s humanity fully contained his deity (finitum capax infiniti). While there is no confusion in the natures, there is an intermingling of the properties of each nature (communicatio idiomatum).

Heretical Bent: Monophysitism (condemned in Council of Chalcedon 451)

Monophysitism:  Christ’s human nature was integrated with His divine nature, forming a new nature. Christ was from two natures before the union, but only one after the union. [TTP cf.]

Reformed: Christ is both full divine and fully man. In the incarnation, Christ’s humanity cannot contain His deity (finitum non capax infiniti). Therefore, Christ exists in the humanity of Jesus, and in the eternity of the Second Person of the Trinity. The unity of the natures is in one person. There is only one state of consciousness contained fully in Christ.

Heretical Bent: Nestorianism (Condemned in the Council of Ephesus 431)

Nestorianism: Christ was fully man and fully God and these two natures were united in purpose, not person. They had difficulty understanding how someone with two natures could be a single individual. [TTP cf.]

II. How is the Trinity explained?

Orthodox definition of the Trinity

One God who eternally exists in three different persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

The Trinity is a description that is articulated through scripture. The word “trinity” is not in the scriptures; the terms watchtower, monotheism, or Charles Taze (spoke of as a prophet) are nowhere to be found within the scriptures either. We can however, articulate both the doctrine of monotheism, and the Trinity within the scriptures. We will define the trinity clearly and concisely within the scriptures later in this article.

We should acknowledge beforehand that Muslims, JW, and Atheists all deny the trinity. What separates the Orthodox Christian from any other believer is the fact that they would hold to the view of the Trinity.

III. Additional creedal statements on the Trinity.

The Athanasian Creed on the nature of the Trinity:

We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost; but the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten; the Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten; the Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

Definition of Chalcedon (451)

“Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Onlybegotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.”

The articulation of the Trinity during the early stages of Christianity seems rather complex in formulation. The scriptures seem to make it clear that there is only one God. All Trinitarians agree there is but one God. It is important to understand that these declarations (Regula Fidei) of Christ were widely accepted during the time of their conception.

“The Church attempted to articulate an incredibly complex body of data and concepts into a rule of faith--a conceptual guideline to keep the faithful within the bounds of revealed information about God. There are many such formulations, with complex terminology and philosophical systems, and ALL of them function as declarations, not explanations.” [4]

IV. Not a God of Confusion

The WT article covers verse 1 Cor 14:33 to make a case and argument about God not being a God of Confusion. 1 Cor 14:26-40 is addressing Church order on tongues, and revelation. Verse 14:40 finishes up with “And do everything in a decent and orderly manner” [NET BIBLE]

Let’s examine 1 Corinthians 14:32 and 14:33 to see if we can use this verse to support their view about God and confusion.

1 Cor 14:32 Indeed, the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, 14:33 for God is not characterized by disorder but by peace.

While it could be stated that God is not characterized by disorder but by peace, we must also understand that we are talking about an infinite being. We do not know everything, nor can we explain everything about his nature. The Tower of Babel account in Genesis 11:1-9 gives an example of where God purposely dispels confusion. God placed different languages amongst the people.

The verse that the WT provides (1 Cor 14:33) does not pertain to this discussion of the Trinity. We admit that God is not a God of confusion, and we recognize that many had questions about the nature of Jesus. John 7:2-5 describes doubt about who Jesus was.

John7:2 Now the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near. 7:3 So Jesus’ brothers advised him, “Leave here and go to Judea so your disciples may see your miracles that you are performing. 7:4 For no one who seeks to make a reputation for himself does anything in secret. If you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 7:5 (For not even his own brothers believed in him.)
This is also confirmed in a line of questioning of “Who am I” by Jesus in Matt 8:27-30. When Jesus asked Peter this question, his reply was “You are the Christ.” Thomas still had reservations on who Jesus was and in John 20:24-29 Thomas no longer had any reason to doubt, and he calls Jesus my Lord, my God. These are prime examples of how doubt and confusion were present among people in Jesus’ era. We could even go further and comment on the book of Revelation and the 4-views of eschatology, which seems to generate much confusion as well. The focus here is that there can be confusion amongst believers—but that doesn’t mean God is a God of confusion.

Here is a quote from the WT article “Should You Believe It”:

…”Furthermore, do people have to be theologians 'to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent'? (John 17:3) If that were the case, why did so few of the educated Jewish religious leaders recognize Jesus as the Messiah?”
This could be an attempt to appeal to authority. The reasoning behind why the educated Jewish religious leaders may not have recognized Jesus as the Messiah for several reasons.

• They were looking for a Messiah that would be a political leader.

• They thought that Jesus was breaking the Jewish laws (i.e., Sabbath)

• They thought that Jesus was possessed.

• They had misinterpreted the scriptures (i.e., The Pesher view)

• They didn’t like being judged as hypocritical, or a brood of vipers.

John 17:3 Now this is eternal life – that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.

The NET Bible study notes has the following to say about John 17:5

“It is important to note that although Jesus prayed for a return to the glory he had at the Father’s side before the world was created, he was not praying for a “de-incarnation.” His humanity which he took on at the incarnation (John 1:14) remains, though now glorified.” [5]

The Holy Spirit is a Force?

The Watch Tower would like to think that the Holy Spirit is nothing more than a gust of wind or a force.

“THE Bible's use of "Holy Spirit" indicates that it is a controlled force that Jehovah God uses to accomplish a variety of his purposes. To a certain extent, it can be likened to electricity, a force that can be adapted to perform a great variety of operations. At Genesis 1:2 the Bible states that "God's active force ["spirit" (Hebrew, ru'ach)] was moving to and fro over the surface of the waters." Here, God's spirit was his active force working to shape the earth.” [2]

Genesis 1:2

1:2 Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water. [NET Bible]

The traditional rendering “Spirit of God” is preserved here, as opposed to a translation like “wind from/breath of God” (cf. NRSV) or “mighty wind” (cf. NEB), taking the word “God” to represent the superlative. Elsewhere in the OT the phrase refers consistently to the divine spirit that empowers and energizes individuals (see Gen 41:38; Exod 31:3; 35:31; Num 24:2; 1 Sam 10:10; 11:6; 19:20, 23; Ezek 11:24; 2 Chr 15:1; 24:20). [NET Bible Notes]

V. The Holy Spirit is called God:

In these places, the words of the Spirit are the words of God.

2 Cor. 3:17–18

3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 3:18 And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
In verse 18 (who is the Spirit) the Greek word pneumato" has been translated as a genitive of apposition. An apposition is a grammatical relation between a word and a noun phrase that follows. An apposition is also the act of positioning close together, in our case, which is “from the Lord, who is the Spirit”. [Net Bible Notes]

Acts 5:3–4

5:3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds from the sale of the land? 5:4 Before it was sold, did it not belong to you? And when it was sold, was the money not at your disposal? How have you thought up this deed in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God!”

If the Holy Spirit is merely a “Force” as the WT claims, then how can this force have the ability to be lied to? In Acts 5:3-4 we see that Ananias lies to the Holy Spirit and he has not lied to people, but to God.

2 Sam. 23:2

23:2 The Lord’s spirit spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.

Isa. 40:13-18

Who comprehends the mind of the Lord, or gives him instruction as his counselor? 40:14 From whom does he receive directions? Who teaches him the correct way to do things, or imparts knowledge to him, or instructs him in skillful design? 40:15 Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales. He lifts the coastlands as if they were dust. 40:16 Not even Lebanon could supply enough firewood for a sacrifice; its wild animals would not provide enough burnt offerings. 40:17 All the nations are insignificant before him; they are regarded as absolutely nothing. 40:18 To whom can you compare God? To what image can you liken him?

Isa 6:9

He said, “Go and tell these people: ‘Listen continually, but don’t understand! Look continually, but don’t perceive!’

Acts 28:25

So they began to leave, unable to agree among themselves, after Paul made one last statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah”.
Ps. 95:7

For he is our God; we are the people of his pasture, the sheep he owns. Today, if only you would obey him!
Hebrews 3:7

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks!
In Hebrews 10:15 we see a quote from Jeremiah 31:31. Hebrews 10:15 starts with… “And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying” then goes on to quote Jeremiah 31:31-33. The Holy Spirit is a witness—can this witness be distinguished as a force?

Jer. 31:31

“Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.
Hebrews 10:15

And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying, 10:16 “This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds,”

VI. The Holy Spirit is a Person:

The Spirit has His own intelligence (1 Cor. 2:10–13).

• The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

• So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.

• Not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit.

The Spirit manifests emotions:

• And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Eph. 4:30).

The Spirit demonstrates His own will:

• Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” (Acts 8:29)

• And in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the church increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31)

• The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)

• For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us (Acts 15:28)

• by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in the province of Asia.

• It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things. (1 Cor 12:11)

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

This is worse than blasphemy of Christ or the Father (Matt. 12:32).

The Spirit humbles Himself:

By willingly diverting attention away from Himself to Christ (John 15:26; 16:13–14).

VII. Problem Passages

Defining the Trinity can seem like a daunting task for Christians. The WatchTower will often confuse the language of verses like Colossians 1:15 as the reference to Jesus being first born of all creation.

1. “First born of all creation”

Col. 1:15

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”
Let us first recognize that “First born” (prototokos) does not mean that Christ was a created being. Either in Scripture it could mean, “the first born Child,” or it often meant, “one who possessed priority.”

2. “Only Begotten” (monogenes)

Used five times in NT to refer to Christ (Jn. 1:18; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn. 4:9)

John 1:14

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Recent linguistic studies have shown that the Greek word monogenes (“only-begotten”) does not come from gennao, “to bear, beget,” but from genos, “kind, class.” Therefore, monogenes would be better translated, “one-of-a-kind” or “unique.” This explains why Isaac is referred to as the monogenes of Abraham when Abraham did have another son, Ishmael (Heb. 11:17). [6]

3. “Beginning of creation”

Rev. 3:14

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this.”


“Beginning of Creation” simply means that Christ is the origin of all things created.

4. “The Father is greater than the Son”

John 14:28

“You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”

A king may be greater then his servant, but that does not mean that his actual being is greater. Just his current position is greater. This passage speaks of functional, not ontological, greatness.


[1] The Theology Program [TTP] Trinitarianism Notebook (PDF) PPGS 104-109

[2] Watchtower article: Should you Believe it?

[3] NET Bible Study notes on Hebrews 1:8

[4] Christian Think-tank: Christian Distinctives

[5] NET Bible Study notes on John 17:5

[6] The Theology Program [TTP] Trinitarianism Notebook (PDF) PPGS 134-5