So Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to have targeted me as a potential convert. This will be the third visit we’ve gotten in the last few months. This time around I had the pleasure to speak with someone who seemed to be an elder. I think it’s important to have civil discussions and build bridges in hopes of showing people that their beliefs may not be as accurate as they would think them to be.
This time around, the main objections of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the orthodox view of Christianity were as follows:
- The term “trinity” does not exist in the Bible
- 1 John 5:7, also known as the “Comma Johanneum,” is not found in the earliest Greek manuscripts. Therefore, we cannot trust it to lead us to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity.
- Isaac Newton supposedly knew that 1 John 5:7 was not in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and therefore he was not a trinitarian.
- When the writers of the NT were speaking about Jesus as God they meant it figuratively, not literally. They meant it as such: Jesus was so amazing, he was like ‘a god.’
For previous dialogs and a pamphlet that I wrote demonstrating the fallacies of the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, please read what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. Now, it is true that the word trinity does not appear in the earliest Greek manuscripts. However, this is a moot point, and any objection rooted in this point is fallacious. A term, any term, does NOT necessarily need to be present in any written work in order for the meaning or reality behind the term to be true within that text and in a broader context. Just because the word “trinity” does not appear, does not mean that the one true God is not a trinity of personhood by its very nature. The concept and doctrine of the trinity is clearly communicated throughout the biblical text in many other verses by those writers who understood what it meant, and theological deduction through proper exegesis leads to no other conclusion.
The doctrine of the trinity does not hinge on the single verse. The Scriptures are replete with passages that expound it. As for the specific verse, the fact that the no currently known manuscripts contain 1 John 5:7 neither necessarily means that absolutely no early manuscripts did/do, nor that the original autograph did.
It is quite odd that multiple Christian writers from early on leading to the modern times made references to 1 John 5:7. Here’s a list:
- 200 AD Tertullian wrote “…Qui tres unum sunt, non unus, quomodo dictum est, Ego et Pater unum sumus, ….” (which three are one) based on the verse in his Adversus Praxean (Against Praxeas), chapter 25. The full context is as follows: “Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These three are one [thing], not one [Person], as it is said, ‘I and my Father are One,’ in respect of unity of substance not singularity of number.”
- 250 AD Cyprian of Carthage, wrote, “And again, of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost it is written: “And the three are One” in his On The Lapsed, On the Novatians, (see note for Old Latin)
- 350 AD Priscillian referred to it [Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, Academia Litterarum Vindobonensis, vol. xviii, p. 6.]
- 350 AD Idacius Clarus referred to it [Patrilogiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina by Migne, vol. 62, col. 359.]
- 350 AD Athanasius referred to it in his De Incarnatione
- 398 AD Aurelius Augustine used it to defend Trinitarianism in De Trinitate against the heresy of Sabellianism
- 415 AD Council of Carthage appealed to 1 John 5:7 when debating the Arian belief (Arians didn’t believe in the deity of Jesus Christ)
- 450-530 AD Several orthodox African writers quoted the verse when defending the doctrine of the Trinity against the gainsaying of the Vandals. These writers are:
A) Vigilius Tapensis in “Three Witnesses in Heaven”
B) Victor Vitensis in his Historia persecutionis [Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, Academia Litterarum Vindobonensis, vol. vii, p. 60.] C) Fulgentius in “The Three Heavenly Witnesses” [Patrilogiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina by Migne, vol. 65, col. 500.]
- 500 AD Cassiodorus cited it [Patrilogiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina by Migne, vol. 70, col. 1373.]
- 550 AD Old Latin ms r has it
- 550 AD The “Speculum” has it [The Speculum is a treatise that contains some good Old Latin scriptures.]
- 750 AD Wianburgensis referred to it
- 800 AD Jerome’s Vulgate has it [It was not in Jerome’s original Vulgate, but was brought in about 800 AD from good Old Latin manuscripts.]
- 1000s AD miniscule 635 has it
- 1150 AD minuscule ms 88 in the margin
- 1300s AD miniscule 629 has it
- 157-1400 AD Waldensian (that is, Vaudois) Bibles have the verse
- 1500 AD ms 61 has the verse
- Even Nestle’s 26th edition Greek New Testament, based upon the corrupt Alexandrian text, admits that these and other important manuscripts have the verse: 221 v.l.; 2318 Vulgate [Claromontanus]; 629; 61; 88; 429 v.l.; 636 v.l.; 918; l; r. [1. References from https://www.chick.com/ask/articles/1john57.asp, accessed 9/15/2015]
As for the specific word, “trinity,” again it must be reiterated that a word does NOT need to be explicitly used in order for the idea behind the word to be valid and indicative of reality. Although the NT writers themselves may not have made direct mention of the trinity, many church fathers did. In fact, there are many mentions of the word throughout and leading up to the establishment of the Watchtower Society (the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses), which would not take place for many centuries. For example, the Greek variation of the word, “trias,” was used by Theophilus (A.D. 168-183). The Latin variation, “trinitas,” was used by Tertullian (A.D. 220) to express this doctrine.
I suppose it should be mentioned that heresy is nothing new, and nothing Jehovah’s Witnesses bring up should be all that surprising. It was partly in response to the heretical teachings of Arius, a Libyan presbyter (provoked a serious crisis by expounding that although the Son was divine, he was a created being and therefore not co-essential with the Father), that in 325 the First Council of Nicaea unequivocally codified the doctrinal statement of the Nicene Creed,
“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
Thus, the Nicene Creed of AD 325 explicitly affirmed the co-essential divinity of the Son, applying to him the term “consubstantial”. The later Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of AD 381 makes even more emphatic declarations about the Trinity, as it speaks of the Holy Spirit as worshiped and glorified with the Father and the Son,
“We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
More details can be looked at, but someone not willing to concede these points, will not care for any elaboration. Suffice it to briefly reiterate (as I’ve done many times) – the Trinity is a doctrine derived at through the following truths communicated in the pages of Scripture:
- There is only one God and no other (Deut. 6:4; 1 Kings 8:60; Isa. 44:6; Mark 12:29, 32; John 10:30)
- The Father is a distinct divine Person (hypostasis, subsistentia, persona, suppositum intellectuale), distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit.
- That Jesus Christ was truly God, and yet was a Person distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit.
- That the Holy Spirit is also a distinct divine Person.
Referencing Isaac Newton?
This was a new one. I don’t understand why Jehovah’s Witnesses or anyone else would cite a scientist to settle a debate on biblical translation and doctrinal orthodoxy. This is not only in poor taste, but this sort of Appeal to Authority is also a logical fallacy. This goes to show the utter desperation that some people would go, to get you to agree with them. Do they really think that people are going to be mesmerized by such a big name scientist that they blindly leap into their bandwagon. Scientists are scientists for a reason, and although a scientist can have good knowledge of matters of theology, to pull the said scientist into a debate to prove a theological point, is not going to be persuasive, especially since the very objection (missing of the Comma Johanneum from early manuscripts) is (a) moot, and (b) as demonstrated by the various citations above, is likely wrong as well.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Misrepresentations of the Trinity
Based on a few conversations I’ve had with Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s clear to me that The Watchtower Society blatantly misrepresents the doctrine. I see no other way in which there would be common confusion between the various JWs. And one should find it particularly interesting to see such misrepresentations found throughout Watchtower literature. In his paper, Rob Bowman highlights the various instances of this sort of abuse of a straw man argument. The following are only a handful of quotations.
“Many pagan philosophers finding that it would be policy to join the ranks of the rising religion [an apostate form of Christianity endorsed by Roman emperors in the fourth century C.E.], set about paving an easy way to it by trying to discover correspondencies between Christianity and Paganism, and so to blend the two together. They succeeded only too well…. As the old theology had a number of chief gods, with many demi-gods of both sexes, the Pago-christians (if we may coin a word) set themselves to reconstruct the list for the new theology. At this time, therefore, the doctrine of three Gods was invented—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.” (Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (1993), chap. 10.)
“They try to induce people to believe in a trinity of three equal gods in one; but the Bible says Jehovah is supreme and Christ Jesus is, not his equal, but his Son.” (“Integrity Leads to Life,” Watchtower, 1 March 1953.)
“It may be necessary for us to teach those with whom we study the Bible how to reason on Scripture texts. For example, Mark 12:29 might be read: “Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.” Ask the student, “How many Jehovahs are there?” Let him answer. The answer is obvious that there is only one Jehovah. When he discerns this, you have caused him to register an important fact in his mind that he might otherwise have missed. Help him to appreciate further what this means to him. Reason with him, perhaps in this way: “If he is one Jehovah, then could he be three gods, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, as the Trinitarians teach?” Again, let him answer. “No, Jehovah could not be three gods, for the Bible plainly says he is one God.” Now, you have caused the student to think on a basic Scriptural truth and to understand that Jehovah is but one God. You have also exposed a basic false doctrine—the doctrine of the Trinity.” (“Building Disciples Having the Qualities of Endurance,” Watchtower, 1 April 1970.)
“Many teachings and practices now common in false religion originated long ago in Babylon. For example, the Babylonians worshipped trinities, or triads, of gods. Today, the central doctrine of many religions is the Trinity. But the Bible clearly teaches that there is only one true God, Jehovah, and that Jesus Christ is his Son.” (What Does the Bible Really Teach? (2005, 2014 printing), 152.)
Let it be noticed that Jesus Christ did not interpret Moses’ words and quote Moses as saying, ‘Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our Gods [Theoí] is three.’ He did not say that there were three Jehovahs and that he himself was one of such three Jehovahs. Jesus simply said: “Jehovah our God [Theós] is one Jehovah.” Jehovah is the whole Theós, the whole Elohím, the whole God. Jehovah is not sharing worship with two other Gods in a Babylonish triad. (“A Nation Holds a Land in Trust for God,” Watchtower, 1 Aug. 1964.) [2. The Three-Gods Lie: How the Watchtower Misrepresents the Doctrine of the Trinity, http://wit.irr.org/three-gods-lie-how-watchtower-misrepresents-doctrine-of-trinity, accessed 9/15/2015]
When an organization blatantly misrepresents the position of those doctrines it opposes, it draws further scrutiny with regard to how genuine its motives are. If the motive of a person or any group is to simply live out reality as it really is, there’d be no reason to misrepresent any other view – all that’s logically needed is to simply examine facts.
The New Testament Writers
The writers of the New Testament did NOT see Jesus only as a figurative god. They understood Jesus to be THE God. This is clear throughout Scripture. I’ve written on this in other posts, and in my booklet for Jehovah’s Witnesses, so there’s no need to delve into this any deeper.
And Just Who Were the Translators of the NWT
One must wonder just who the translators of the NWT were, and just what kind of training they had. Ah, there’s the rub:
“The New World Translation was produced by the New World Bible Translation Committee, formed in 1947. This committee is said to have comprised unnamed members of multinational background. The committee requested that the Watch Tower Society not publish the names of its members, stating that they did not want to “advertise themselves but let all the glory go to the Author of the Scriptures, God,” adding that the translation, “should direct the reader… to… Jehovah God”. The publishers believe that “the particulars of [the New World Bible Translation Committee’s members] university or other educational training are not the important thing” and that “the translation testifies to their qualification”. Former high ranking Watch Tower staff have claimed knowledge of the translators’ identities.
Evangelical minister Walter Ralston Martin identified Nathan H. Knorr, Fredrick W. Franz, Albert D. Schroeder, George Gangas, and Milton Henschel as members of the translation team, writing of them, “The New World Bible translation committee had no known translators with recognized degrees in Greek or Hebrew exegesis or translation… None of these men had any university education except Franz, who left school after two years, never completing even an undergraduate degree.”
[3. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_World_Translation_of_the_Holy_Scriptures, accessed on 8/30/2015]
Blatant Errors in Translation
Well, ok, so the translators did not have notable credentials to properly carry out the translation project. It doesn’t necessarily mean the translation is bad, right? Right! We must examine the translation itself, not the people who translated it. Unfortunately for Jehovah’s Witnesses, their NWT happens to be worse than the credentials (or lack of) of the translators.
The misinterpretation and mistranslation of the translators of the NWT were either the result of unintentional incompetence or an intentional misleading maneuver to make the text fit their already predefined heretical theological position. Take, for example, the New World Translation (appendix 1D), which implies that the 237 “Jehovah” references come directly from the Hebrew Scriptures. (The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures Reference Edition, 1984, pages 1564-1565). It’s surprising then to find that in actuality, more than half of the references to “Jehovah” found in the Greek Scriptures are not quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Usually, when someone approaches a particular topic of interpretation unless they approach it without a prior agenda, there is bound to be an intrusion of a bias – a pretext to be carried to its predefined destination. This is actually admitted to by The Watchtower Society:
“The foremost feature of this translation is the restoration of the divine name to its rightful place in the English text. It has been done, using the commonly accepted English form “Jehovah” 6,973 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and 237 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures.” [3. New World Translation Reference Edition, 1984, page 6]
The “restoration of the divine name to its rightful place” is the primary motivation for the NWT. As such a particular bias is employed during the process of translation to achieve the end in sight. Since the original biblical text is routinely blatantly misrepresented throughout the NWT, it’s safe to say it is to be deemed an untrustworthy translation.
Should the Importance of any Organization be on Par with God?
God is the greatest conceivable Being. He is without equal. No human institution of any kind should be seen to be on par with God. That is, however, not what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. They also uphold the authority of their organization on par with the authority of God,
“Loyalty to God also includes loyalty to his organization. Necessarily, over the years there have been corrections and adjustments to our understanding of certain scriptures. The fact is that no one is as spiritually well fed as we are. (Matthew 24:45-47) Unquestionably, Jehovah has stuck with his modern-day organization. Can we not do likewise?” [4. October 1, 2001 Watchtower, page 20]
Additional Details on the Tetragrammaton
- For a comprehensive study of the Tetragrammaton in Greek, see this: http://wit.irr.org/tetragrammaton-and-christian-greek-scriptures-intro
- For a comprehensive study of the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew, see this: http://wit.irr.org/tetragrammaton-in-hebrew-versions