In 2009, a Witness gave me an anti-Trinitarian magazine titled “Should You Believe in the Trinity?” (published in 1989). She assumed that it would shatter my belief in the Trinity and perhaps make me a Jehovah’s Witness. It actually backfired, as it gingered me to study more on this issue. When she showed up again, she was disappointed. Her hope of converting me finally fizzled out like a damp squib.
They usually give this booklet to “strong Trinitarians,” and the reason is obvious, the rhetoric employed in this work is slippery. The reader is bombarded with numerous quotes from various “Christian” scholars and historians all stating that the Trinity doctrine is confusing, a-historical, false, pagan and unbiblical. A Christian who is not well versed in Scripture, church history or theology can be misled by this 32 page brochure.
Reading this booklet, the first snag you will quickly run into (if you are observant) is that the sources quoted are not completely cited. They gave the names of the publications, but not the volume or page numbers. This makes it quite difficult for people to double-check the sources they quoted from. Why did the Watchtower Society do this? The reason is because, most of the quotes presented in favour of their thesis were a-contextual and spurious. I will provide several examples of the dishonest quotations, convoluted and slippery -slope arguments that fill this magazine.
It won’t be necessary for me to refute every line in this work. Some dedicated Christian scholars have done that already. Once the consistent errors and flawed methodology employed by the Watchtower Society in this booklet is noted, their entire thesis collapses along with their credibility. This will suffice to prevent Christians from being misled by their arguments and also to show JWs that they have trusted in a deceitful organization.
Page 4: “Many sincere believers have found it [the Trinity doctrine] 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?”
Apart from the fact that this is an appeal to prejudice, here, the JW writers are trying to define the nature of God with human reason and experience. What happened to the transcendence, greatness and majesty of God? God ceases to be God is all He is or able to do are only what the human mind can reason out or explain. Can JWs explain to us by their “normal reason” or “experience” how God couldn’t have a beginning, or how He created the world out of nothing?
The next paragraph says: “This confusion is widespread. The Encyclopedia Americana notes that the doctrine of the Trinity is considered to be ‘beyond the grasp of human reason.’ Many who accept the Trinity view it that way.”
JWs are trying to say is that the Trinity doctrine should be rejected because it is beyond human comprehension. This is a double standard because in another publication, they say: “Our minds cannot fully comprehend it. But that is not a sound reason for rejecting it … Should we really expect to understand everything about a Person who is so great that he could bring into existence the universe…?” (Reasoning From the Scriptures, 1985, 148-9).
The full quote from the Encyclopedia Americana used (27:116) says:
“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.”
You can see that this work is saying the Trinity can be apprehended but the Watchtower magazine selectively quoted it.
The full quote on the same page from A Dictionary of Religious Knowledge (Lyman Abbot, 1875, 944) says: “Precisely what the doctrine is, or rather precisely how it is to be explained, Trinitarians are not agreed among themselves…Sabellians…Others…Arianism…Tritheists…Swedenborgianism…the view of modern Trinitarians most current may be stated thus. It is not possible for the human intellect to comprehend fully the divine nature. The Bible represents God to us as Father, Son and Holy Ghost. It represents them as equally entitled to our highest reference, affection and allegiance.”
The parts omitted by the magazine appear in bold. The author was saying the opposite of what JWs wanted people to believe, so they selectively quoted him.
On pg. 5 we are told “that since the Trinity is such a confusing mystery” it couldn’t have come from divine revelation because “God is not a God of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). This is a fallacy of wrong conclusion based on false premises. The Bible text used here is speaking of order in a church service not the nature of God which the Scripture calls “the mystery of godliness” (1Tim. 3:16). By juggling the word “mystery” with “confusion,” the Watchtower craftily presents its faulty conclusion.
In the same page under the heading “‘Trinity’ in the Bible?” the quote from the Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Hodder and Stroughton, 1959 3:1597) in full says:
“It must be remembered that the OT was written before the revelation of the doctrine of the Trinity was clearly given. The word Trinity is not found in the Bible…It did not find a place formally in the theology of the church till the 4th century … Although Scripture does not give us a formulated doctrine of the Trinity, it contains all the elements out of which theology has constructed the doctrine.”
Again, the source says the opposite of what the booklet is saying. Another full citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1912, 15:47) quoted in the same page reads:
“In Scripture there is as yet no single term by which the Three Divine Persons are denoted together. The word [trias] (of which the Latin trinitas is a translation) is first found in Theophilus of Antioch about A. D. 180. He speaks of the Trinity of God [the Father], His Word and His Wisdom (Ad. Auto, 11, 15. P.G VI1078). The term may, of course, have been in use before his time. Shortly afterwards it appears in its Latin form of trinitas in Tertullian.”
When you are quoting from a work, the meaning of the original quotes should be apparent, even when you use ellipses (…). But you can see that the Watchtower Society omits any aspect of their source that opposes their agenda. Here, they deliberately left out the part in the work stating that Theophilus taught the Trinity doctrine at least two generations before Tertullian.
Another example is Bernhard Lohse’s A Short History of Christian Doctrine (1966, 38) quoted on p. 6: “As far as the New Testament is concerned, one does not find in it an actual doctrine of the Trinity … At the same time, however, there are in the New Testament the rudiments of a concept of God that was susceptible of further development and clarification, along doctrinal lines.”
You can see again that their source admits that the Trinity doctrine came from the Bible, a fact that the Watchtower didn’t want their readers to know. This is the same methodology employed throughout this booklet. Let me give one more example.
On pg 6, under the heading ‘Testimony of the Hebrew Scriptures’ they quoted from the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1965, 306): “The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not taught in the O[ld] T[estament].”
But the very next sentence after this says: “In the N[ew] T[estament], the oldest evidence is in the Pauline epistles, especially 2Cor 13:13, and 1Cor 12:4-6. In the Gospels, evidence of Trinity is found explicitly only in the baptismal formula of Mt 28:19.”
That JWs would even use a Catholic reference work to repudiate the Trinity is enough to call their intellectual dignity into question, because everyone knows that Catholics believe in the Trinity. Interestingly, this source also says: “The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is not taught in the O.T” Can JWs please stop celebrating the Lord’s Evening Meal yearly? The only way the Watchtower Society could deny the Trinity is by misrepresenting people’s views. This is wicked and ungodly.
Read part two here.