Saturday, 23 March 2013

Biblical Defense of the Trinity

Refuting the Watchtower

by Dave Sherrill and others

Verse by Verse Topic by Topic Related Articles Recommended Reading
Love to Christ
Strength for the Weak

Comments and Responses Welcome

If you would like to offer supplemental comments or a rebuttal to the analysis presented here, feel free to drop me a note. Be aware that by sending an email response, you are giving implied consent for me to publish it on this site if I so choose. All email will be read and considered. The inclusion or exclusion of any email is at my discretion. I will make one promise to you right now. If I choose to include your response on a supplemental page, I will include your original note in full, without altering it.


The intent behind this page is to provide a comprehensive response to the arguments presented by Jehovah's Witnesses (referred to as JWs) against the Trinity. I'm only just starting, so there's little here yet. I ask your patience while I prepare the defense. I'll be creating several pages for this as time goes on. We will have verse-by-verse and topic-by-topic answers and eventually a positive presentation of the Trinity. However, my recommendation for you is not to wait until I'm done here. There is a tremendous amount of literature on various aspects of the Trinity. The best book I've found on the doctrine as a whole is The Trinity--Evidence and Issues by Dr. Robert Morey. This book is a serious, and I do mean serious, examination of the Trinity. It is a challenging work that you will use and benefit from for years to come. Dr. Morey provides a sound and thorough presentation of the Trinity. He also devotes a sizable section of the book examining the arguments of those who deny the Trinity. His analysis of their arguments is devastating.

Defining the Trinity

Let's begin with some brief definitions of the Trinity.
Trinity. The term designating one God in three persons. Although not itself a biblical term, "the Trinity" has been found a convenient designation for the one God self-revealed in Scripture as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It signifies that within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three "persons" who are neither three gods on the one side, nor three parts or modes of God on the other, but coequally and coeternally God. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell--Editor, p.1112)
We may define the doctrine of the Trinity as follows: God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God. (Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, p.226)
Please note that these are brief definitions. They are not full statements or defenses in themselves. Many aspects of these definitions need to be expanded upon (and will be, Lord willing). At the very least, they provide you with a point of reference indicating where I'm coming from. Jumping right into the defense of the Trinity without providing some definition seemed to me to be rash.

Why Respond to Jehovah's Witnesses?

Why bother with the JWs? Why should we spend a significant amount of time and effort to defend the Trinity against attacks from the Watchtower? In his book on the Trinity, Millard Erickson gives this analysis:
The other major source (of doctrinal challenges to the Trinity) is the Christian sects, especially Jehovah's Witnesses, who vehemently reject the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Frequently, Jehovah's Witnesses especially target relatively new converts of orthodox Christianity as their prospects, initially stressing those points of agreement that the two groups hold. When combined with the zealous approach generally characterizing the outreach efforts of this group, the movement constitutes a genuine challenge and threat to orthodoxy. (God in Three Persons, Millard Erickson, p.24)
I agree with Erickson. The Watchtower does present a "genuine challenge" and should be taken seriously. That is precisely what I will endeavor to do here, take them seriously and answer them honestly and appropriately.

Respond to What?

When we consider the vast array of publications produced by the Watchtower, which one should we examine first? It makes sense to devote my time initially to their most focused collection of challenges to the Trinity, namely the 1989 Watchtower publication, Should You Believe in the Trinity?--Is Jesus Christ the Almighty God? (referred to as SYBT.) SYBT has proven to be very popular with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Therefore, responding to SYBT will identify the main arguments currently in use by JWs in general. Click here to go to this booklet on the Watchtower's site. I will also be addressing some of the websites maintained by active Jehovah's Witnesses. While these "independent" sites cannot be taken as representing the official Watchtower position, the webmasters for these sites are very active and visible in presenting their understanding of Watchtower dogma and attacking Christian doctrine. The subtlety of their presentations require close, careful examination.
That the Watchtower misunderstands and misrepresents the Trinity is evident quite early in SYBT. On page 2, the third question SYBT asks indicates a fundamental error in the way it will challenge the Trinity. It says, "Is Jesus Christ the Almighty God and part of the Trinity?" (emphasis added) If you recall the definition of the Trinity I provided above, the Trinity is NOT composed of "parts". The theological term Trinity "signifies that within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three "persons" who are neither three gods on the one side, nor three parts or modes of God on the other, but coequally and coeternally God. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell--Editor, p.1112) SYBT repeats this question several times. We will deal with this error and others like it in our detailed refutation by topic.

The Word "Trinity"--Why Use It?

The word "Trinity" is not found anywhere in the Bible. Is this fact, in itself, enough to end the discussion right here? Of course not. Both Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses use words all the time which are not found anywhere in the Bible. "JWs, is the word 'theocracy' found anywhere in the Bible?" No, but you still use the word "theocracy", don't you? Why? It is what could be called theological shorthand. Theocracy is a term loaded with meaning and significance for Jehovah's Witnesses. Using theological shorthand like this is a common, everyday occurrence that should not shock or confuse a Christian or JW. It lets you speak meaningfully to those around you without going through the labor of giving the full definition of "theocracy" every time you mention it. So it is with our use of the word "Trinity". While the word itself is not found in the Scriptures, it encompasses and incorporates a huge amount of Biblical data. So let's not get thrown off the tracks of the discussion by the simple fact that the word "Trinity" is theological shorthand used by Christians to communicate their understanding concisely. Both Christians and JWs use non-biblical words to describe biblical ideas. So let's move on and consider how the depth of the doctrine of the Trinity will impact the way we approach the topic.

Streams, Rivers, and the Great Ocean of the Trinity

This fact that the word Trinity is theological shorthand highlights a weakness in "verse by verse" discussion with JWs. Any single verse will not contain in itself all of the data needed to define or defend the full theological doctrine of the Trinity. But this does not overturn the Trinity. Nor does it make the Trinity fall under the label "unbiblical". To illustrate the biblical nature of the Trinity, let's use a word picture of streams, rivers, and the ocean. Individual verses pertaining to the Trinity are like small streams. These specific verses flow together into larger concepts, which can be pictured as rivers fed by the streams of verses. These conceptual rivers then flow into the great ocean of the Trinity. Is the ocean found in a stream? in a river? No, all of the streams and rivers flow together into the ocean. Now, this is an illustration and no illustration is perfect. But I still think it is a helpful way to relate individual verses to the very broad doctrine of the Trinity.

Where to Start: the Beach or the Mountains?

Continuing to soak in this watery illustration, you might wonder where we should begin our investigation. Do we start in the mountains, entirely ignorant of the ocean, and by tracing our way from a particular stream, to a river, we finally arrive at the ocean? Or should we start with prime beachfront property? Gazing out upon the ocean, we could ask ourselves, "What must be true in order for this beautiful ocean to exist in the way that it exists?" The first method--starting from the mountaintop--would be approaching the Trinity using the "inductive" method, meaning that from observing particular specific details, a general conclusion is drawn. The second approach--starting at the ocean and working your way back--is known as the "deductive" method. Approaching the Trinity deductively means that you ask the question, "What must be true in order for the Trinity to be what the Trinity is?"

Huh?? What's This Inductive-Deductive Stuff About?

Don't dismiss this discussion simply on the basis of terms which might be unfamiliar to you. While the terms themselves might be unfamiliar, I guarantee that you use both induction and deduction every single day. How can I be sure? Let me explain. Induction is the process of observing particular details and noting that the outcome is consistent. Based on this repeatability, induction concludes that to repeat those details again will, in all likelihood, give the same result. This sounds a lot like scientific experiments, doesn't it? That's not by chance. The inductive method of reasoning is also known as the "scientific method". To use an illustration you will be familiar with, let's think about playing catch with a ball. Why do you only bring one ball to the game? Every time you play catch, you are using inductive reasoning. How? Based on your previous experiences playing catch, you expect the ball to come back to earth after you throw it. In all probability it will come back to earth. You're expectation that the ball will return to earth is built on inductive reasoning. You use deductive reasoning every day, too. For example, you walk into your living room, see the TV set on and no one in the room. You ask, "Who left the room without turning off the TV?" You observed the conclusion (TV on in empty room) and built the premises which necessarily result in the conclusion you just observed. So you see, this discussion of induction and deduction is not philosophical mumbo-jumbo or speculation. These are things you use every day. Additional helpful instruction can be found in Chapter 1 of Morey's book on the Trinity.

My Approach Primarily Deductive

I will be attempting to frame my defense of the Trinity primarily from a deductive viewpoint. The Triune God is the "given" from which I work. Throughout this analysis I will be asking, "What must be, in order for what is to be what it is?"

Watchtower's View of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Since we provided a definition for the Trinity, it would be appropriate to get the Watchtower's definition. On page 3 of SYBT under the heading Should You Believe It?, the Watchtower gives a brief summary of their view on the Trinity. Acknowledging that it is a brief statement, it is quite helpful because it quickly highlights what the Watchtower holds as essential in their view of God. It reads as follows:
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 prehuman 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. (SYBT, page 3)

Truth, the Glory of God, and Scripture

We will respond to the preceding Watchtower statement in detail in the topic-by-topic section, which is still under construction. But even if our response is not done yet, it is my goal to fairly and accurately present the Watchtower's position. To not do so would be irresponsible or dishonest. I serve the God of truth, therefore to honor Him I must strive to be truthful in all things, including honestly presenting the views I disagree with. My motive in putting this analysis together is not to win an argument. My motive is to honor God. It is my sincere desire to display and defend the truth to the best of my ability, not leaning on my own strength or the wisdom of men, but resting in the grace of my Lord and my God who has called me to this good work. (Eph 2:4-10) It is my hope that God would use this study to glorify Himself in all His Triune glory.
The foundation of this analysis is God's inspired, inerrant, and infallible word.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16,17; NASB)

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