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The Trinity in Two Watchtower Publications
By Gary F. Zeolla
Jehovah's Witnesses believe "The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society" is "God's organization." As such, the average Jehovah's Witness (JW) places complete trust in the Watchtower (WT) and its publications.
This four-part article will study two popular WT publications in an effort to determine if the WT and its publications are worthy of such trust. The focus will be on the teachings of the WT on the nature of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Trinity.
In this article, unless otherwise indicated, Scripture references will be from the WT's own Bible, The New World Translation (NWT). Verses marked NKJV are from The New King James Version.
Other versions referred to are: King James Version (KJV), Modern King James Version (MKJV), Literal Translation of the Bible (LITV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and New International Version (NIV).
You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth
When two JWs knock on someone's door, if given the chance, they will generally offer to lead a "Bible study" in the person's home. If the person agrees, the 255 page book, You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (LF) will probably be used as the basis of the study.
The study will consist of one person reading a numbered paragraph from the book and the corresponding question at the bottom of the page. Another person is then expected to answer the question by rephrasing what was just read in the paragraph. The study will proceed to the next paragraph and question in the same manner. This pattern will be followed for about an hour or so. The JWs most likely will want to meet with the person for this "Bible study" on a weekly basis.
LF was first published in 1982. A new edition was released in 1989. Since there are no changes in the sections to be studied between editions, the following page and paragraph numbers apply to either edition.
The Doctrine of the Trinity Defined
The main section of LF to be looked at is titled "Is God Jesus or a Trinity?" The first paragraph states, "According to the teaching of the Trinity, there are three distinct persons, that is, there is one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (p.39).
This definition is basically a correct articulation of the Trinity doctrine. So the WT obviously knows that the doctrine teaches the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons. But on the same page is a picture of Jesus praying. The caption under the picture reads, "Since Jesus prayed to God, asking that God's will, not his be done, the two could not be the same person."
Within the text, Jesus' prayer in Gesthsemane is quoted, "Let not MY will, but YOURS take place" (Luke 22:42; emphasis in original quote). LF then asks, "if Jesus were the Almighty God, he would not have prayed to himself, would he?"
Please take careful note of the switch that has been made. The statement of the caption and the question are irrelevant to a discussion of the Trinity. The WT knows this doctrine teaches the Father and the Son are two distinct Persons (and thus have two distinct wills). As such, why is it now trying to imply the Trinity is false because the Son is a distinct Person and has a distinct will from the Father? In the prayers of Jesus, the second Person the Trinity is speaking to the first Person of the Trinity. So where's the problem?
Position vs. Essence
In paragraphs 14 and 15, LF quotes several Scriptures in an attempt to demonstrate Jesus is "not equal to the Father" (p.40). But the book never defines what is meant by "equal." Equal in what?
From the earliest times, the Church has made a distinction between the positional and the essential relationships of the three Persons of the Godhead.
Tertullian was one of the most important theologians of the post-apostolic Church. He lived from about 160-220 AD (Moyer, p.396). His most important work was The Apology. The book contains clear demonstrations of the early Church's belief in the Deity of Jesus.
Tertullian writes that Jesus "... is called God from unity of substance with God." And further, "Surely, Christ, then had a right to reveal Deity which was in fact His own essential possession" (Bush, pp. 92,95).
When a theologian uses such terms as "substance" - "essential possession" (or "essence"), along with "nature," in reference to the relationship of the Father and the Son, it indicates he is discussing the "Ontological deity of Jesus." This phrase is, "A reference to the view that Jesus Christ actually possessed all the qualities of deity" (Erickson, Concise, p.120).
Elsewhere in The Apology, Tertullian mentions a different aspect of the relationship of the Father and the Son. He writes that Jesus is, ... second in manner of existence -in position, not in nature" (Bush, p.93).
Terms such as "manner of existence", position" and the like point out the discussion is now on the Economic view of the Trinity ... the differing manifestations and functions of the three persons" (Erickson, Concise, p.120). "Economy" in this context, refers to "The functional arrangement of elements within a structure or system" (American, p.437).
When one is talking about the Ontological Trinity, it is a reference to the belief that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of the same essential nature. The Economic Trinity expounds on the different ways the three Persons interact with each other and the creation.
Perhaps an illustration might help in understanding these two different ways of viewing the Trinity. The President of the United States has a higher or greater position than I do as regards the operation of the USA. But he is not better than me in his essential worth. We are on the same level in the latter respect in that we both possess the nature of "humanness." In other words, the President is greater in "economy" but we are equal ontologically.
It is important to keep these two concepts separate in any discussion of the Trinity. The Trinity doctrine teaches the three Persons of the Godhead are equal ontologically but differ in economy. This distinction has been held by Christians throughout the centuries. But the WT never attempts to explain or respect this distinction. Either it is unaware of the difference or it simply chooses to ignore it. This problem in WT literature will become apparent throughout the rest of this article.
"The Father is greater than I am"
A favorite verse of JWs is quoted in paragraph 15 on page 39 of LF. It is Jesus' statement, "The Father is greater than I am" (John 14:28). In interpreting this verse and how it relates to the Trinity, it is imperative to keep in mind the distinctions between the Ontological and the Economical viewpoints of the Trinity.
The Father is greater than the Son in the sense of economy. The Father is the first Person of the Trinity; the Son is the second. The situation should become clearer by investigating another passage referenced in this section - 1Corinthians 11:3.
The part of the verse the WT wants the reader to notice is the last phrase, "the head of Christ is God" JWs assume this statement means the Father is superior in nature than the Son. However, the phrase right before reads, "the head of a woman is the man."
So if JWs want this verse to teach the Father is superior ontologically than the Son, they must also be consistent and believe that men are essentially superior than women. However, this type of superiority JWs do not affirm; and of course, the Bible teaches the ontological equality of men and women (see Gen l:26f; Gal 3:28).
In 1Cor 11:3, Paul is talking about the positional relationships of God the Father to the Son; of the Son to men; and of men to women. This is not the place to discuss what is meant by the man being the head of the women. Suffice it to say, it cannot mean men are better by nature than women. As such, this or the previous verse (John 14:28) cannot be used in attempt to prove the Father is essentially better than the Son. Economical, not ontological, relationships are being referred to in these verses.
"Nor the Son"
Another favorite verse of JWs is also referenced in this section - Mark 13:32. In the context of the verse, Jesus is discussing the end-times. He states, "Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father." LF comments, "Also, Jesus explained that there were some things that neither he nor the angels knew but that only God knew (p.39).
Several remarks need to be made on this verse and the WT's comments on it:
First, LF is overstating the case when it says there were "some things" Jesus didn't know. This verse is the only place in the Scriptures where Jesus admits a lack of knowledge on something.
Second, Jesus said "the Father" knows not "only God." The book is misquoting Jesus.
Third, "... ignorance and error are two different things" (Erickson, Theology, p.710). To have predicted the time of the end and to have been proved wrong is not the same as saying He doesn't know the time. "While he confessed ignorance, he never made an erroneous statement" (Erickson, Theology, 710).
Fourth, there were times when Jesus spoke as being omniscient (Matt 17:27; Mark 2:8; Luke 9:46f; 11:17; John 1:48; 4:16-18). On occasions, Jesus even predicted the future (Matt 16:21; 24:25; 26:21-25,31-45; John 21:18f).
Fifth, it must always be remembered, and the WT always seems to forget, the historic Christian doctrine is that there are two natures in the one Person of Jesus Christ: "We Believe 4) In the full Deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ. These two distinct natures, perfect deity and perfect humanity, are inseparably united in the one Person" (from Darkness to Lights Confession of Faith).
John Calvin comments further:
For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one Person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, on discharging the office of Mediator. There would be no impropriety, therefore, in saying that Christ, who knew all things (John 21:17) was ignorant of something in respect of his perception as a man; for otherwise he could not have been like us, (Heb 2:17). . . If Christ as man, did not know the last day, that does not any more derogate from his Divine nature than to have been mortal (commentary on Mark 13:32; Vol. 17, p.154).
Sixth, the doctrine of the Deity of Christ includes the concept of kenosis. This term comes from the Greek word kenoo used in Phil 2:7. The word means, "to empty oneself, to divest oneself of a position (Louw, Vol.1, p.740). Further, "The word does not mean He emptied Himself of His deity, but rather He emptied Himself of the display of His deity for personal gain" (Rienecker, p.550).
D.A. Carson comments further:
Jesus' self-confessed ignorance on this point... is part of the NT pattern of his humiliation and incarnation (e.g. Matt 20:23; Luke 2:52; Acts 1:7; Phil 2:7).... How the NT insistence on Jesus' deity is to be combined with NT insistence on his ignorance and dependence is a matter of profound importance; and attempts to jettison one truth for the sake of preserving the other must be avoided" (Gaebelein, Vol.8, p.508).
Lastly, as all the above indicates, it is insufficient for the WT to just refer to a passage and assume it "proves" its position. Mark 13:32 has been in the Bible for 2000 years and Christian scholars have dealt adequately with it. JWs must either be ignorant of the above information (which shows a lack of scholarship on their part) or they have deliberately chosen to ignore it. Either way, it doesn't say much for their methodology.
"This Jesus God resurrected"
The last verse quoted in paragraph 15 is Acts 2:32. What is the point of quoting this verse is not clear; unless the WT is again demonstrating Jesus is not the same Person as the Father. As already shown, this point is irrelevant in trying to disprove the doctrine of the Trinity.
However, on the subject of the resurrection, Jesus' claim in John 2:19 is interesting, "Break down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." John clarifies Jesus' statement in verse 21, "But he was talking of the temple of his body."
In other words, Jesus proclaims He will raise up His own body, yet the WT admits it was God who resurrected the body of Jesus. How can this be - unless Jesus is God (the Son)?
"in the beginning with God"
Paragraph 16 on page 40 begins with a discussion of John 1:1. An evaluation of the NWT's rendering of this verse will be saved for later. Here, the WT's consistent misrepresentation of the doctrine of the Trinity needs to again be pointed out.
LF tries to demonstrate that John 1:1 cannot be proving that the Word (Jesus) is God since the next verse states that the Word was, "... in the beginning WITH God" (emphasis in original quote). The Word can be WITH God because, as already stated, the Word (the second Person of the Trinity) is a distinct Person from God the Father (the first Person of the Trinity).
"no man hath seen God at any time"
Paragraph 16 continues, "and while men have seen Jesus, Verse 18 (of John ch.1) says that 'no man hath seen God at any time' (KJV)" (LF, p.40).
However, people have seen God. The OT records several theophanies (appearances of God; see Gen 18; Exod 33:11,20 etc.). So what is the WT missing here? Who is appearing in the OT and who is it that nobody has ever seen?
In John 6:46, Jesus clarifies the situation by stating, "Not that anyone has seen the Father...." So it is God the Father that nobody has seen. But what about the Son? A comparison of John 12:41 with Isaiah 6:1-5 demonstrates it was Jesus who appeared to Isaiah; yet Isaiah exclaimed, "... my eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of armies, himself!" Could God the Son also be responsible for the other OT theophanies?
Another often used argument of JWs is mentioned in this section. Jesus referred to the Father as "my God" (John 20:17). JWs assume, and want everyone else to, that since Jesus referred to God in this manner, He Himself cannot also be by nature God. But why?
Several points can be raised here.
First, in John 20:17, Jesus is telling Mary, "I am ascending to my Father and YOUR Father and to my God and YOUR God" (Note: The NWT capitalizes second person pronouns when they are plural in the Greek).
It needs to be noticed how Jesus doesn't here or anywhere else group Himself with others and say "our Father" or "our God." He always makes a clear distinction between His relationship to God the Father and everyone else's. (Note: "The Lord's Prayer" was given to us to pray. Jesus never prayed it; He doesn't need to ask for forgiveness; see Matt 6:9,12; 2Cor 5:21).
Second, in Hebrews 1:8, God the Father says to the Son, "Your throne, 0 God, is forever and ever" (NKJV). So there is no inconsistency with one member of the Godhead referring to another as "God."
Third, Jesus' calling of the Father as "my God" could simply be an indication of the positional difference between the first and second Persons of the Trinity.
Fourth, In Philippians 3:18f, Paul is discussing "the enemies of the cross of Christ" (NKJV). He states that "their god is their belly." This phrase refers to "... sensualists who indulged various physical appetites without restraint" (Homer A. Kent, Jr. in Gaebelein, Vol.2, p.147).
Their appetites are their "god" since fulfilling them are the most important thing in life to them. Jesus proclaimed, "My food is for me to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work" (John 4:34). Thus, the Father is Jesus' "God" since in His earthly life, fulfilling the Father's will was the most important thing to him.
Fifth, Ron Rhodes presents another possible interpretation of what is happening here. Rhodes is the editor of The Christian Research Newsletter.
In the November/ December issue of his newsletter, he writes:
Jesus' acknowledgment of the Father as "my God" does not imply that Jesus Himself is not God. Prior to the incarnation, Jesus - the Second Person of the Trinity - had only a divine nature (John 1:1). But in the incarnation Jesus took on a human nature so that He was both fully God AND fully man. It is thus IN HIS HUMANITY that Jesus acknowledges the Father as "my God." (Vol.4, Issue 5, p.7; emphasis in original).
Rhodes explanation here could also be another way of explaining John 14:28. In His humanity, Jesus could be saying "the Father is greater than I am." Either way, by an appeal to the positional relationships of the members of the Godhead or by looking at the humanity of Jesus, Jesus' statement here and in John 14:28 can easily be interpreted in a manner consistent with a belief in the Deity of Jesus.
The WT must show that the verses it cites necessarily preclude Jesus' Deity. This proof they do not even attempt to make. The WT deals with alternate interpretations by ignoring them.
"the only true God"
Similar to the above, JWs like to point out that in John 17:3, Jesus referred to the Father as "the only true God." To them, this statement "obviously" proves Jesus is not God.
However, in the fourth verse of his epistle, Jude refers to Jesus as "our only Owner and Lord." If Jesus' calling the Father "the only true God" means Jesus cannot be by nature God, then Jude referring to Jesus as "our only Owner and Lord" means the Father cannot be our Owner or Lord!
Ex-JW David Reed comments further:
Yet, Witnesses speak of the Father as "the Lord Jehovah," even though Jude 4 calls Jesus our "only" Lord. And the Holy Spirit is called "Lord" at 2Corinthians 3:17. Obviously, then, neither use of the word "only" is exclusive with reference to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus' being called our "only" Lord does not rule out the Lordship of the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Father's being called the "only" true God does not exclude the Son and the Holy Spirit from deity (Reed, p.82).
In addition, John 17:3 reads in full, "And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christi whom You have sent" (NKJV). If Jesus is an inferior Person to the Father, why is a relationship with Him also needed for eternal life? Shouldn't a relationship with the infinite God alone suffice? (Isa 45:22; see John 5:23).
The conclusion of LF to what it has presented so far in this section is, "Clearly, Jesus is not Almighty God" (p.40). Given all the problems demonstrated above with the WT's arguments, is this conclusion really so clear?
article is continued at:
The Trinity in Two Watchtower Publications - Part Two.
See end of Part Four.
The Trinity in Two Watchtower Publications. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light
The above article was originally published by Darkness to Light ministry in
It was posted on this Web site in January 1998.
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