The most ridiculous part of the “Should You Believe in the Trinity?” booklet was when it began to quote patristic sources to support its assertions.
On pg 7 under the heading “What the Ante-Nicene Fathers Taught,” quotes from Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Origen were presented as if these men were Jehovah’s Witnesses who believed in a supreme God and archangel Michael called Jesus. Interestingly, none of the sources they obtained their quotes from were indicated. I will quote from the booklet (which will be in bold) and provide the real quotes from the early church fathers below each.
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.” He said that Jesus was inferior to God and “never did anything except what the Creator…willed him to do and say” (p 7)
Yes, Justin Martyr did say that Jesus manifested as an ‘Angel’ in the Old Testament. “[He] is called an Angel and apostle, for he declares whatever we are to know, and is sent forth to declare what is revealed.” But he also said: ” [the] Son who also, being the first begotten Word of God, is even God” (First Apology, LXIII cited in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1994, 1:184).
Irenaeus, who died about 200 C.E., said that the prehuman Jesus had a separate existence from God and was inferior to him. He showed that Jesus is not equal to the “One true and only God” who is “supreme over all, and beside whom there is no other.”
But here is what he really taught: “We have already shown from Scripture that not one of these sons of Adam is called ‘god’ in the proper sense of the term or named ‘lord’. But that He (Jesus) is Himself, in His own right, beyond all men who have ever lived, God and Lord and king Eternal, and Incarnate Word, proclaimed by the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself” (Against Heresies III, 6, P 419)
While Irenaeus argued against the modalist heresy by stressing that Jesus was a different person from God the Father, he never taught that he had a “separate existence from God.” The Watchtower writer is trying to put their own beliefs in Irenaeus’ mouth! He refuted their idea in the same work: “Christ Himself, therefore, together with the Father, is of God of the living, who spake to Moses, and who was also manifested to the fathers.” (p. 467)
Clement of Alexandria, who died about 215 C. E., 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. (p 7)
Clement of Alexandria didn’t call Jesus a creature. In his writings, he stated that Jesus is eternally pre-existent and uncreated.
“There was then, a Word importing an unbeginning eternity; and also the Word itself, that is, the Son of God, who being, by equality of substance, one with the Father, is eternal and uncreated” (Clement, Fragments Part 1, Sec. III 190 A.D)
He also wrote:
“I understand nothing else than the Holy Trinity to be meant; for the third is the Holy Spirit, and the Son is the second, by whom all things were made according to the will of the Father” (Stromata Book V, ch 14).
Tertullian, who died about 230 C.E., taught the supremacy of God…He also said: “There was a time when the Son was not…Before all things, God was alone.” (p 7)
This is a shameless misquoting of Tertullian. The full quote says:
“For before all things God was alone–being in Himself and for Himself universe, space and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself. Yet even not then was He alone for He has with Him that which He possessed in Himself that is to say, His own Reason…which term we also designate Word or Discourse…the Word was in the beginning with God.” (Against Praexe Ch. 2, Vol III, p 300).
Origen, who died about 250 C.E., said that “the Father and Son are two substances…two things as to their essence,” and that “compared with the Father, [the Son] is a very small light”
JWs are trying to make Origen say what they think he should say. Here is what he really taught:
“[Jesus is] the perfect essence of God the Father; for these things cannot be severed from Him or separated from His essence… In their nature and essence they are one, and in them is the fullness of divinity” (On First Principles, IV, 28).
Origen in fact, rightly call those like JWs who believe that Jesus was created heretics:
“For we do not hold that which the heretics imagine: that the Son was procreated by the Father from non-existent substances, that is, from a substance outside Himself, so that there was a time when He did not exist” (De Principis, Bk. V Summary, Sec 28).
Perhaps realizing that their patristic quotations do not fly above the roof, JWs concluded the paragraph by quoting Alvan Lamson’s The Church of the First Three Centuries: “The modern popular doctrine of the Trinity derives no support from the language of Justin [Martyr]; and this observation may be extended to all the ante-Nicene Fathers; that is to all Christian writers for three centuries after the birth of Christ.”
Now, if the Watchtower Society had a modicum of integrity on their side, they should have informed their readers that Alvan Lamson was a Unitarian heretic and therefore can’t be relied on for Christian orthodoxy. Why did they need a quote from a Unitarian (a 19th century cult) to cement their views if it was well-affirmed by history? The truth is, JWs will not mind quoting a heretic who shares their anti-Trinitarian view to reinforce their belief, and to make it worse, they had to misrepresent patristic works (which are easily accessible) to support their position. This indicates a high disregard for historical facts.
Read part 3 here