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In Defense of the Trinity

A dialogue on the errors of Jehovah's Witnesses regarding this historic Christian teaching

Mike: Sorry, I’m late, man. Traffic’s brutal.

Dan: No problem. I already got you a cappuccino.

Mike: Excellent.

Dan: Anyway, thanks for coming. I gotta tell you, ever since I read this booklet on the Trinity, I’ve been really confused.

Mike: Ah, yes. Should You Believe in the Trinity? Subtitle: Is Jesus Christ the Almighty God? I figured this was the one you called about. It’s a deceitful attack on the Trinity by the JWs.

Dan: “JWs”?

Mike: Short for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Dan: How do you know it’s from the JWs?

Mike: Because it says it’s published by the “Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.” That’s JW world headquarters.

Dan: Well, the booklet is pretty convincing.

Mike: That’s what makes it dangerous: full-color pictures, nice layout, lots of quotes and citations. It’s packed with distortions and falsehoods but cleverly written. This booklet is one of the JWs’ most effective weapons against Catholics.

Dan: How come they focus on the Trinity?

Mike: Because it’s a complicated issue—they know most Catholics can’t explain or defend the Trinity. Plus, it’s a two-for-one deal: If JWs get rid of the Trinity, they automatically get rid of Christ’s divinity as well. This little booklet could mislead Catholics who aren’t solid on Church history, the Bible, or logic.

Dan: Well, help me out here.

Mike: First, let’s shorten this JW title.

Dan: How about SYBTShould You Believe in the Trinity?

Mike: Okay. Then let’s tackle some logical errors in SYBT. Look at the pictures on the inside cover and on page ten. What do you see?

Dan: Images of pagan gods along with images of the Christian Trinity.

Mike: Right. How many faces or bodies are in each pagan image?

Dan: Three.

Mike: And how many faces or bodies in each Christian image?

Dan: Three. You know, a lot of these images do look alike.

Mike: And from this likeness JWs conclude Christians borrowed their belief in the Trinity from pagan “trinities.” This is a compelling visual argument. Only problem is that it’s totally wrong.

Dan: Why?

Mike: It assumes that if two beliefs are similar, one comes from the other.

Dan: Well, that seems plausible.

Mike: Plausible maybe, but not necessary. Consider this: JWs and Muslims reject the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, and the ordained priesthood. So they have some similar beliefs. But should we conclude that JWs simply borrowed Muslim beliefs?

Dan: I think JWs would say it’s just coincidence. With all the beliefs in the world, some are gonna overlap. But that wouldn’t necessarily prove one came from another.

Mike: Right. In 1350 B.C., around the time Moses was born in Egypt, the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton got rid of multiple gods and promoted belief in only one god. Anyway, Moses is responsible for the Bible’s first five books, which also teach there is only one God. Does this mean the JW (and Jewish and Christian and Muslim) belief in one God comes from the pagan Akhenaton?

Dan: No, of course not.

Mike: And what about this? Both JWs and Catholics believe in some sort of resurrection. The ancient Egyptians (2400 B.C.) believed in the resurrection of the god Osiris. Does this mean our resurrection beliefs come from paganism?

Dan: If so, then JWs are as pagan as Catholics.

Mike: With so many different pagan religions, we almost always can find some ancient belief that is superficially similar to any present belief.

Dan: But that doesn’t prove present religions come from paganism.

Mike: Exactly. The key is “superficially” similar. The artwork may look alike, but the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is fundamentally different from anything found in paganism.

Dan: So what were the pagans portraying?

Mike: Three different gods—never three persons who were each totally and completely the one God, which is what Christians believe. The art may be similar, but the beliefs are worlds apart.

Dan: Okay. How about other logical errors?

Mike: SYBT claims the Trinity is confusing and unreasonable. Therefore, it cannot come from God because he isn’t a God of confusion (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33) nor does he do anything contrary to reason.

Dan: But isn’t the Trinity confusing to most people? I mean, the Church does call it a “mystery of faith.”

Mike: If by confusing you mean nobody totally gets it, I agree. But if by confusing you mean irrational or absurd, then, no. A “mystery of faith” isn’t something totally unknowable. It simply means that it’s too deep for us to know totally.

Dan: What? You lost me there.

Mike: God is infinite, right?

Dan: Yes.

Mike: And we are finite?

Dan: Of course.

Mike: Then we would expect many of his revelations to be bigger than us, bigger than our tiny minds can g.asp completely.

Dan: So you’re saying that we can know some of what God reveals but not all?

Mike: Yes. Non-Christians find many Christian beliefs confusing. Consider creation out of nothing. They say, “How can anything (much less everything) be created out of absolutely nothing?” We certainly can’t wrap our minds around that. And yet JWs accept this without a flicker of doubt. They say, correctly, creation out of nothing is true, even though it is far beyond our understanding.

Dan: So that’s what we should say about the Trinity: It’s beyond our reason but not against our reason.

Mike: Exactly.

Dan: But what about the claim that the Trinity is a contradiction because three can’t equal one?

Mike: If I say there are five people in a family, am I saying five equal one?

Dan: No, no . . . because five refers to people and one refers to family.

Mike: Same for the Trinity. Three refers to persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One refers to the Godhead. No contradiction.

Dan: Okay, let’s grant that the Trinity isn’t unreasonable. But JWs make a huge deal about it being unbiblical. Where does the Bible teach the Trinity?

Mike: It doesn’t use the word Trinity, nor does it explicitly use the formula “one God in three Persons.”

Dan: So they’re right: The Trinity isn’t explicitly taught in the Bible?

Mike: Yeah, but so what? Where does the Bible say that everything must be taught explicitly in the Bible? If that were true, the Bible would have to explicitly say so. But it doesn’t.

Dan: Yeah, that’s the whole problem with the “Bible alone” idea: It’s not found in the Bible alone.

Mike: Lots of Christian beliefs aren’t explicitly in the Bible: the list of inspired books that make up the Bible, for instance; that Jesus had both a human and divine will; that public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle. Besides that, JWs don’t even practice what they preach.

Dan: How so?

Mike: Lots of JW beliefs aren’t explicitly in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t explicitly teach that only 144,000 people can go to heaven—and anyone who becomes a JW after 1935 can only live on earth forever. The Bible doesn’t explicitly prohibit blood transfusions. The Bible doesn’t explicitly say Jesus was really Michael the archangel before he came to earth and that he is now Michael again after he died. These aren’t taught explicitly (nor implicitly for that matter), but they’re still core JW beliefs.

Dan: Well then, does the Bible teach the Trinity implicitly?

Mike: Yes. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is God (cf. John 8:58, 10:38, 14:10; Col. 2:9). It also clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit is God (cf. Acts 5:3–4, 28:25–28; 1 Cor. 2:10–13). Everyone agrees the Father is God. Yet there is only one God (Mark 12:29, 1 Cor. 8:4–6, Jas. 2:19). How can we hold all four truths except by saying all three are somehow the one God?

Dan: Any verses mention all three divine persons together?

Mike: Sure. Jesus tells his apostles to baptize “in the name [notice, singular, not plural] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). This is a proof-text: three distinct Persons united in the one divine name. In 2 Corinthians 13:14, Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” We see this same unity of divine Persons in 1 Corinthians 12:4–11, Ephesians 4:4–6, and 1 Peter 1:2–3.

Dan: Okay. But what about SYBT’s claim on page seven that “the Trinity was unknown throughout biblical times and several centuries thereafter.” JWs say it was invented in the fourth century at the Councils of Nicea in A.D. 325 and Constantinople in 381.

Mike: Totally false. We’ve seen already that the elements of the Trinity are biblical. The language of the Trinity was developed by the Church Fathers. Around the year 181, Theophilus of Antioch expressly used the Greek word trias (trinitas in Latin, trinity in English): “the Trinity: God [the Father], his Word, and his Wisdom” [To Autolycus 2:15]. About twenty years later, Tertullian used the Latin trinitas: “The Unity is distributed in a Trinity. Placed in order, the three are Father, Son, and Spirit” [Against Praxes 2:4].

Dan: So the word Trinity was used explicitly in the late second century. This is what—about 140 years before the Council of Nicea?

Mike: Yes. The word trinitas became common in the third century (Nicea was in the fourth). Origen (185–253) used it frequently, and his pupil, Gregory the Miracle Worker, put it in a creed written before 270: “Wherefore there is nothing either created or subservient in the Trinity, nor anything caused to be brought about, as if formerly it did not exist and was afterward introduced. Wherefore, neither was the Son ever lacking to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity forever.”

Dan: So this guy’s using Trinity in a Christian creed at least fifty-five years before Nicea supposedly invents it? Wow.

Mike: Ever watch Mythbusters?

Dan: That show’s hilarious.

Mike: I’d say the JW myth that the Trinity was unknown for “several centuries” until it was invented by Nicea and Constantinople is totally “busted.”

Dan: But on page seven, SYBT quotes a bunch of Church Fathers, claiming they didn’t believe Jesus was equal to the Father.

Mike: This page proves JWs are masters of misquotation. They don’t care what authors actually say but just what they can make them appear to say. The way they misquote the early Church Fathers is indefensible.

Dan: Don’t hold back; tell me what you really think.

Mike: Hey, dishonest scholarship ticks me off. Look. They quote Justin Martyr (A.D. 100–165) as calling Jesus a “created angel who is ‘other than the God who made all things.’” In his First Apology, Justin writes this of Jesus: “We will prove that we worship him reasonably; for we have learned that he is the Son of the true God himself.” He goes on to say that “the Father of all has a Son, who is both the first-born Word of God and is God” (13 and 63). Jesus ain’t no angel for Justin Martyr.

Dan: Then how can they say stuff like that?

Mike: Because when they quote the Fathers they give no references. Zip. Zero. Nada. They claim whatever they please. But we can’t look ’em up and prove ’em wrong.

Dan: Couldn’t this be an isolated case?

Mike: Nope. JWs claim Irenaeus (140–202) said Jesus is separate from God and inferior to him. Again, they give no references, so we can’t verify the quotes. But here’s a quote from Irenaeus about Jesus that we can verify: “Nevertheless, what cannot be said of anyone else who ever lived, that he is himself in his own right God and Lord and eternal King, and only begotten and Incarnate Word, proclaimed as such by all the prophets and apostles and the Spirit himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. The Scriptures would not have born witness to these things concerning him, if, like everyone else, he were a mere man” [Against Heresies 3, 19, 2]. Anyway, SYBT trots out six early Church Fathers and misrepresents every single one of them.

Dan: That’s pretty devious.

Mike: The amazing thing is that, when you read their writings, all six of these Fathers—who supposedly deny Christ’s divinity—clearly and unmistakably affirm Christ’s divinity.

Dan: Okay, the Bible teaches the basics of the Trinity, which become more developed by the Church Fathers. So why did the Church come up with a precise formula at Nicea?

Mike: Because in 318, a renegade priest name Arius began denying the divinity of Christ and thus the Trinity. His heresy, known as Arianism, began to spread like wildfire throughout the Church.

Dan: So JWs are just modern-day Arians?

Mike: In many ways, yes. The Church responded to the Arian threat by defining Christ’s divinity and the Trinity in a creed, known today as the Nicene Creed. That way, Christians could distinguish between true Christian teaching on the Trinity and heretical distortions like Arianism.

Dan: So the Church wasn’t inventing the Trinity at Nicea.

Mike: More like protecting it from being hijacked by the Arians.

Dan: Any other errors?

Mike: One glaring error is SYBT’s use of the JW Bible—the New World Translation. This translation differs wildly from all other Bibles.

Dan: How?

Mike: They changed “the Word was God” in John 1:1 to “the Word was a god.” They inserted the word Jehovah 237 times in the New Testament even though the Greek has Kurios (“Lord”) instead. They added the word other four times to Colossians 1:16–17 to make it seem like Jesus is part of creation instead of the source of creation.

Dan: So what if the JWs mistranslate a few words?

Mike: It’s more than a few words. They mangle the Bible to prop up their beliefs. Of all major Bibles, only the JW Bible has these mistranslations. On top of that, JWs refuse to name their translators.

Dan: Why’s that a problem?

Mike: They’re asking us to reject all standard Bible translations made by respected scholars who aren’t afraid to subject their work to peer review. Instead, JWs want us to accept a defective translation made by an anonymous committee.

Dan: But SYBT spends eighteen of its thirty pages claiming Jesus isn’t divine, that he’s just a man. How do we disprove that?

Mike: You’re right. This is the booklet’s biggest error. And it’s the issue to discuss with JWs. If we can prove that Jesus is truly God, we’ve proved two-thirds of the Trinity. More than that, if we can prove JWs are wrong in thinking Jesus is just a creature, their whole religion collapses.

Dan: So let’s prove Jesus is God.

Mike: Unfortunately, that’s gonna have to wait. I gotta run.

Dan: Nah, dude, c’mon.

Mike: We’ll prove the divinity of Christ next time, I promise.

Dan: All right, I’m holding you to it.

Mike: It’s a deal.

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