Defining The Trinity – Chapter 1 – Yes, You Should Believe in the Trinity!

Yes, You Should Believe in the Trinity bookCHAPTER 1: DEFINING THE TRINITY

WHAT IS THE TRINITY?

The Trinity is the view that the 3 Persons mentioned in the Bible: Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit are one God, equal in nature and eternal and uncreated in substance. They co-exist, co-create and co-rule this present world and are distinct in their personhoods, yet they share their eternal nature as the one and only True God. Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Trinity doctrine and argue against the Deity of Jesus Christ based on a misconception of what the Trinity Doctrine is and what it stands for. Below we will examine their arguments in-depth as we discuss their 1989 publication, Should You Believe in the Trinity?

WATCHTOWER ARGUMENT:

“Here Jesus shows that he and the Father, that is, Almighty God, must be two distinct entities, for how else could there truly be two witnesses? …Was God saying that he was his own son, that he approved himself, that he sent himself? No.…To whom was he praying? To a part of himself? No….To whom was Jesus crying out? To himself or to part of himself? …If you appear in someone else’s presence, how can you be that person? You cannot. You must be different and separate.…Someone who is ‘with’ another person cannot also be that other person.” —Should You Believe in the Trinity?, pp. 17-19, 27

The Athanasian Creed which most clearly defines the historical view of the Trinity states:

“…we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal. As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God….And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three Persons are coeternal together, and coequal: so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man. God of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead….”—The Creed of Athanasius, Written Against the Arians1.

3 DEFINING PRINCIPLES OF THE DOCTINE OF THE TRINITY:

1. THE TRINITY IS NOT MODALISM: THE VIEW THAT THE FATHER, SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT ARE ONE PERSON.

“Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance….”
Athanasian Creed

Since Trinitarians do not believe that the Father and the Son are the same person, the Watchtower argument that the Trinity is unreasonable because Jesus wasn’t praying to “a part of himself” has no basis in reality. This Watchtower argument serves to confuse the issue by misstating what Trinitarians believe. Such is also the case with the Society’s frequent statement of “not a part of a Trinity” in reference to the Holy Spirit.2. Trinitarians maintain that while each person of the Trinity is “distinct” in His personhood, each person is undiminished Deity, and thus each is considered individually in His person full God—not 1/3 God. Rather than being divided into three parts, God is revealed as a composite being who is “one,”3. and who refers to Himself in singular terms such as “I” and “Myself.” Walter Martin founder of the Christian Research Institute described the mathematics of the Trinity as not being 1+1+1=3, but rather, 1X1X1=1.4.

2. THE TRINITY IS NOT TRITHEISM: THE VIEW THAT THE FATHER, SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT ARE THREE “GODS.”

“So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are
not three Gods, but one God.”—Athanasian Creed

The phrase “persons of the Trinity” is not used to refer to separate existence as individuals—as is the case when one refers to a father, son, and grandson. On the contrary, when speaking of the Trinity, the term “person” is used to designate the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each has a mind, will, and emotions and each are keenly aware of the others, speak of the others, and honor the others. Hence, it is in this sense that the Triune God is described as being three distinct “persons.”

3. IN THE TRINITY “NONE IS BEFORE OR AFTER OTHER; NONE IS GREATER OR LESS THAN ANOTHER.”

Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.…One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
Athanasian Creed

Prior to the incarnation, Jesus was one in person and one in nature. Although retaining His full Deity as God, at the incarnation, Jesus took on an additional nature—the nature of man—and henceforth became two in nature while yet remaining one in person.5. Even though attributes of His Divine and human natures are attributed to His one person, His natures are not mixed; neither is He half man and half God, but is “one altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.” In His Divine nature, Jesus is “equal” to the Father, but in His humanity, He is “inferior to the Father” and is therefore in complete subjection to the will of the Father. Operating under the limitations of His humanity, Jesus was able to experience the trials and temptations common to man, live a perfect, sinless life, and offer His life as an atoning sacrifice for sin.6. As the God-man, He offers His free gift of eternal life7. to all who receive Him on the basis of faith alone.8.

“BEYOND THE GRASP OF HUMAN REASON”

“Many sincere believers have found it 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? …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 same way.…Jesuit Joseph Bracken…says: ‘The Trinity is a matter of formal belief, but it has little or no [effect] in day-to-day Christian life and worship.’ …divine revelation itself does not allow for such a view of God: ‘God is not a God of confusion.’—1 Corinthians 14:33, Revised Standard Version (RS). In view of that statement, would God be responsible for a doctrine about himself that is so confusing…?”—Should You Believe in the Trinity?, pp. 4-5

The Watchtower Society argues that God cannot be the author of the doctrine of the Trinity because it is confusing and 1 Corinthians 14:33 states that “God is not a God of confusion.” Is this a valid argument? A look at the context of 1 Corinthians 14 reveals that this passage is dealing with unity among the believers in the church at Corinth. The fact that finite human beings cannot fully comprehend the infinite God and may experience confusion when endeavoring to understand Him does not change the fact that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” While many Catholic and even some Protestant Trinitarians admit that the doctrine of the Trinity can be confusing and hard to comprehend, is this a valid reason for rejecting it? The Society’s book Reasoning from the Scriptures states:

Did God have a beginning? Ps. 90:2: ‘Before the mountains themselves were born…even from time indefinite to time indefinite you are God.’ Is that reasonable? Our minds cannot fully comprehend it. But that is not a sound reason for rejecting it. Consider examples: (1) Time. …We do not reject the idea of time because there are aspects of it that we do not fully comprehend.…The same principle applies to the existence of God.…Should we really expect to understand everything about a Person who is so great that he could bring into existence the universe, with all its intricate design and stupendous size?”—Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1989, pp. 148-149

How can the finite fully comprehend the infinite? Just as the Watchtower Society admits, there are aspects of God that we cannot fully comprehend. Therefore, one should not reject a quality of God simply on the basis that the concept may be “beyond the grasp of human reason.”

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.…as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand….”—I Corinthians 13:12; 2 Peter 3:16

Although the Trinity cannot be totally comprehended by the human mind, it can be apprehended and seen illustrated in the world of nature. Take, for example, an illustration involving three candles. Even after each candle is lit, the flames are separate and distinct. However, when one combines each of the three flames together, they become one flame. Since we know from Scripture that God is spirit (John 4:24), is it inconceivable to fathom the three persons of the Trinity (who are of Divine essence) being united as one composite Being who is Jehovah God? Just as three separate flames can unite into one flame, it is in this way that one can apprehend how each member of the Trinity is separate and distinct—yet one God. The Encyclopedia Americana made the following statement regarding this principle:

“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.”—The Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 27, p. 116

Concerning the practical significance of the Trinity, Robert M. Bowman comments:

“One of the complaints expressed by the JW booklet, through quotations from the New Catholic Encyclopedia and from Catholic theologian Joseph Bracken, is that the doctrine of the Trinity seems impractical and irrelevant, even to many people who believe in the Trinity (p. 4). It is true that in many churches today, appreciation for the Trinity is very low, even where it is formally acknowledged as true. But generally these same churches show little appreciation for the relevance of the Bible to their lives despite their church’s official recognition of the Bible as God’s Word. This is especially true in many Roman Catholic congregations (though not quite in all). Thus, their failure to appreciate the Trinity is no more a disproof of the truth of that doctrine than their failure to appreciate the Bible is a disproof of its truth as God’s Word. The fact is that where the Trinity is not simply given lip service, but, as the Athanasian Creed puts it, where the people ‘worship one God in Trinity,’ the doctrine has tremendous significance and relevance. Trinitarians have the assurance that the one who saved them, Jesus Christ, was no less than God himself. They also rejoice to know that it is God himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in their hearts.”—Why You Should Believe in the Trinity, 1989, pp. 18-19

The doctrine of the Trinity bears even more significance when one recognizes that Jesus claimed that one must go directly to Him in order to obtain the free gift of eternal life.

“If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. ‘…wash away your sins, calling on His [Jesus’] name.’ …You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.… Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.…All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.…No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.…Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.”—John 14:14; Acts 22:16; John 5:39-40; 6:35, 37, 44-45

Since Jehovah is the only true God, He is the only one we should worship. Since prayer is a form of worship, the only way prayer can rightfully be rendered to Christ is if He is indeed Jehovah God.

“IS IT CLEARLY A BIBLE TEACHING?”

First-century believers accepted the Scriptures as the authentic revelation of God. It was the basis for their beliefs, the final authority.…Since the Bible can ‘set things straight,’ it should clearly reveal information about a matter as fundamental as the Trinity is claimed to be. But do theologians and historians themselves say that it is clearly a Bible teaching? …A PROTESTANT publication states: ‘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.’ (The Illustrated Bible Dictionary) And a Catholic authority says that the Trinity ‘is not…directly and immediately [the] word of God.’New Catholic Encyclopedia.”—Should You Believe in the Trinity?, p. 5

Endeavoring to appeal to the scholarly community for credibility, the Watchtower Society quotes statements from Catholic, Protestant, and secular authorities throughout their brochure. While they frequently state the title of the books being quoted, one will search this brochure in vain to find the volumes and page numbers from which these quotes are derived. Furthermore, upon examination of the original sources of these quotes, it is evident that the Society has misrepresented these scholars in an attempt to solicit scholarly support for their position. Let’s take a moment and examine some of the Society’s quotes in context. Note that throughout this book, the underlined sections of quoted text highlight the portions of text that the Watchtower Society quoted out of context.

The word Trinity is not found in the Bible, and though used by Tertullian in the last decade of the 2nd century, it did not find a place formally in the theology of the church till the 4th century. …Though it is not a biblical doctrine in the sense that any formulation of it can be found in the Bible, it can be seen to underlie the revelation of God, implicit in the OT and explicit in the NT.”—The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, part 3, p. 1597

“The 4th-century articulation of the triadic mystery is at least implicitly the word of God, hence part of the Christian credo. On the other hand, it is not, as already seen, directly and immediately word of God.”—The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 14, p. 304

The key words in these quotations are “formulation,” “implicit,” and “explicit.” What these and many other scholars are saying is that while one cannot find a formula for the doctrine of the Trinity explicitly stated in the Bible, the concepts which provide the basis for the doctrine are clearly manifest. Thus, “the triadic mystery is at least implicitly the word of God.

TESTIMONY OF THE HEBREW AND GREEK SCRIPTURES

“WHILE the word, ‘Trinity’ is not found in the Bible, is at least the idea of the Trinity taught clearly in it? For instance, what do the Hebrew Scriptures (‘Old Testament’) reveal?”—Should You Believe in the Trinity?, p. 6

While it is true that the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible, this does not mean that it is not a Biblical concept. The word “omniscient” is not in the Bible; yet, one would not deny the fact that God is omniscient (all-knowing) simply because the word is not in the Bible. Indeed, the concept of God’s omniscience can be found throughout the Old and New Testaments, and the same can be said about the doctrine of the Trinity.

At this point, the Society continues to misrepresent scholars endeavoring to make it appear that the scholarly community supports their assertion that the doctrine of the Trinity is not found in either the Old or New Testaments. We will now examine these quotes in their proper contexts:

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION

While The Encyclopedia of Religion states that “theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of the Trinity” and “theologians agree that the New Testament also does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity,” it goes on to discuss “binitarian texts” and the fact that many passages convey the concept of the Trinity as “God takes on flesh in Christ” and that the doctrine of the Trinity’s “origins may legitimately be sought in the Bible. …What the scriptures narrate as the activity of God…is the wellspring of later trinitarian doctrine.”The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 15, p. 54

NEW CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA

While the New Catholic Encyclopedia claims that “The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not taught in the OT,” it goes on to state:

In the NT the oldest evidence is in the Pauline epistles, especially 2 Cor 13.13, and 1 Cor 12.4-6. In the Gospels evidence of the Trinity is found explicitly only in the baptismal formula of Mt 28.19.…In many places of the OT, however, expressions are used in which some of the Fathers of the Church saw references or foreshadowings of the Trinity.…the minds of God’s people were being prepared for the concepts that would be involved in the forthcoming revelation of the doctrine of the Trinity.” —New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 14, p. 306

THE TRIUNE GOD, by Jesuit Edmund Fortman

Although Fortman states that “the Old Testament…tells us nothing explicitly or by necessary implication of a Triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.…There is no evidence that any sacred writer even suspected the existence of a divine paternity and filiation within the Godhead.…Even to see in them suggestions or foreshadowings or ‘veiled signs’ of the trinity of persons, is to go beyond the words and intent of the sacred writers,”9. he qualifies his statements with:

“Perhaps it can be said that some of these writings about word and wisdom and spirit did provide a climate in which plurality within the Godhead was conceivable to the Jews. However, these writers definitely do give us the words that the New Testament uses to express the trinity of persons, Father, Son, Word, Wisdom, Spirit.”
The Triune God, 1972, p. 9

Concerning the New Testament, the Society quoted part of Jesuit Fortman’s statements, but notice the following section which they left out of their quote:

“If we take the New Testament writers together they tell us there is only one God, the creator and lord of the universe.…They call Jesus the Son of God, Messiah, Lord, Savior, Word, Wisdom. They assign Him the divine functions of creation, salvation, judgment. Sometimes they call Him God explicitly.…They give us in their writings a triadic ground plan and triadic formulas….They give us no formal or formulated doctrine of the Trinity, no explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons. But they do give us an elemental trinitarianism, the data from which such a formal doctrine of the Triune God may be formulated.”—Triune God, pp. xv-xvi

THE NEW ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica correctly admits that “Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament.…”, but it goes on to prove that even though the “explicit doctrine” is not stated, it is implied in the pages f Scripture. “Thus, the New Testament established the basis for the doctrine of the Trinity.”—The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. 11, p. 928

“PROTESTANT THEOLOGIAN KARL BARTH”

According to the New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Karl Barth (1886-1968) was a “Swiss theologian” who studied “under some of the great liberal scholars of the day.”10. Since liberal theologians tend to deny fundamental doctrines of Christianity, it is not unusual that one would find a liberal scholar making the statement that: “The Bible lacks the express declaration that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of equal essence.”11. In spite of this, however, Barth still admitted, “The basis of theology is thus the living Trinity Itself. The Word of God is not a thing or an object, but God Himself speaking.”12. The point Barth made in his book is that while the Bible lacks the “express declaration” of the Trinity, “the NT does contain the fixed, three-part formula of 2 Cor. 13:13 (EVV 14) in which God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit are mentioned together (cf. 1 Cor. 12:4 ff.). The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit occurs only in the baptismal formula in Matt. 28:19.”13.

Is it any wonder that in the Watchtower Society’s brochure, they do not list any of the page numbers from which their quotes are derived? As is readily seen, when one examines these quotes in their original context, these scholars are not saying that the Trinity doctrine is foreign to Scripture, but rather, that Scripture provides the “basis” from which the Trinity doctrine is “formulated.” Although the doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly stated, it is most certainly implied within the pages of Scripture.

bullets NEXT CHAPTER

============

1. The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Religious Creeds, First Edition, vol. 1, J. Gordon Melton, Editor (Gale Research Company, 1988), pp. 2-3
2. See pages 16-20 of Should You Believe in the Trinity?
3. See Deuteronomy 6:4
4. “God is not triplex (1+1+1) —He is triune (1X1X1), and he has revealed Himself fully in the Person of our Lord, Jesus Christ (Col. 2:9, John 14:9).” —CRI tract: Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Trinity
5. See Philippians 2:6-7
6. Hebrews 4:15 c.f. James 1:13; Philippians 2:5-6; Romans 5:8; Colossians 2:13-15
7. Romans 6:23; 1 John 5:11-13; 1 John 1:9
8. Romans 3:28; 4:4-8; 11:6; Galatians 5:4; Philippians 3:9; Colossians 3:3
9. The Triune God, by Edmund J. Fortman, 1972, (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI), pp. xv, 8-9
10. New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1978 (J.D. Douglas, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI) p. 107
11. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 1976, vol. 2, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI) p. 84
12. New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1978 (J.D. Douglas, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI) p. 107
13. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 2, p. 84

** Note that throughout this book, the underlined sections of quoted text highlight the portions of text that the Watchtower Society quoted out of context.

Print Friendly

This post is also available in: Spanish