Friday, 14 November 2008

Should You Believe in the Trinity? - 3

Most Christians who talk to Jehovah’s Witnesses will eventually come across the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society’s [WBTS] booklet “Should You Believe In The Trinity” [abbreviated to “Trinity” from now on.]

As with most WBTS publications, the booklet gives the impression of being a well-produced, scholarly work. It is only as you check it out carefully that the errors begin to come to light. It may not be easy to get a Witness to investigate this publication but we want to give the opportunity to lovingly show some of the faults in it and hope you will be able to do the same with the next one that calls at the door. It is not wise to try to tackle all the arguments at once, concentrate on one at a time.

When you show that a particular quote is not the full one the reply that many Jehovah’s Witnesses have been given is, “Well the writer does say these words and therefore we are not misquoting them.” The answer I give to this is to quote John 3:16 & 17 from the New World Translation, as follows:

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son, in order
that everyone... might... be destroyed.

Is that correct Mr Witness? No? Nevertheless, it is what is written in your Bible. I hope that through this the Witness will begin to see how dishonest it is, by judicial editing, to make any author say the opposite to what he or she actually said.

The “Trinity” booklet weaves a number of themes together but we have tried to break it down to a few main subjects each of which we will look at under the following headings.

A. MAIN WATCHTOWER ARGUMENTS - A summary of their main arguments.

B. PUBLICATIONS QUOTED - A look at the quotations they use, replacing, in bold italic print, anything of interest they have left out.

C. COMMENTS ON THE WATCHTOWER ARGUMENT - Highlighting anything that is wrong or suspect with their argument.

D. ADDED MATERIAL - A concise look at any extra material that will present another point of view.

SECTION 3- THE TRINITY WAS NOT TAUGHT IN THE EARLY CHURCH

A. MAIN WATCHTOWER ARGUMENTS

Page 7. - Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol.12, p.461
The transition from the Trinity of experience to the Trinity of dogma is describable in other terms as the transition from the economic or dispensational Trinity... to the essential, immanent, or ontological Trinity... At first the Christian faith was not Trinitarian in the strictly ontological reference. It was not so in the apostolic and sub—apostolic ages, as reflected in the New Testament and other early Christian writings.

COMMENT

Ontology is a branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being. Ontological here has to do with the Trinity being written down to prove the existence of what they had believed in all along.
Page 7. - New Catholic Encyclopaedia Vol.14, p.299

From what we have seen thus far, the impression could arise that the Trinitarian dogma is in the last analysis a late 4th-century invention. In a sense, this is true; but it implies an extremely strict interpretation of the key words Trinitarian and dogma. The formulation ‘one God in three Persons’ was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and it profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century. But it is precisely this formulation that has first claim to the title the Trinitarian dogma. Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective; among the 2nd-century Apologists, little more than a focusing of the problem as that of plurality within the unique Godhead. Not before Tertullian and Origen, early in the century following, had an attempt been made to solve the problem...

COMMENT

Next, the WBTS cite several small quotes from early Church Fathers strung together by their own comments. In the original text no reference is given as to where the quotes come from but they have revealed their sources in the list recently released. It is of interest that the WBTS do not quote direct from the writings of the Church Fathers, even though there are many volumes to choose from, but from a book by Alvan Lamson [see comment of this work under the next quote]. This is not good scholarship because in the actual writings there are clear examples that all the men mentioned believed other than what is said of them. To get a fair picture we have reprinted the whole passage as it stands from “Trinity” and then added in [ ] quotes that come from the direct writings of the Early Church Fathers.

The ante-Nicene Fathers were acknowledged to have been leading religious teachers in the early centuries after Christ’s birth. What they taught is of interest.

Justyn Martyr, who died about 165 C.E., called the prehuman Jesus a created angel who is ‘other than the God who made all things.’ He said that Jesus was inferior to God and ‘never did anything except what the Creator... willed him to do or say.’ [... God, the Father... and the Son... and the prophetic Spirit, we worship and adore... - The Ante Nicene Fathers, Wm.B.Eerdman, Vol.1, p.164.]

Irenaeus, who died about 200 C.E., said that the prehuman Jesus had a separate existence from God and was inferior to him. He showed that Jesus is not equal to the ‘One true and only God,’ who is ‘supreme over all, and besides whom there is no other.’ [Jesus Christ was not mere man, begotten from Joseph in the ordinary course of nature, but was very God, begotten of the Father most high, and very man, born of the virgin. - Ibid, p.448.]

Clement of Alexandria, who died about 215 C.E., called Jesus in his prehuman existence ‘a creature’ but called God ‘the uncreated and imperishable and the only true God.’ He said that the Son ‘is next to the only omnipotent Father’ but not equal to him. [I understand nothing else than the Holy Trinity to be meant; for the third is the Holy Spirit, and the Son is the second, by whom all things were made according to the will of the Father. - Ibid, Vol.2, p.468.]

Tertullian, who died about 230 G.E., taught the supremacy of God. He observed: ‘The Father is different from the Son (another), as he is greater; as he who begets is different from his who is sent.’ He also said: ‘There was a time when the Son was not ... Before all things, God was alone.’ [Him (Jesus Christ) we believe to have been sent by the Father into the virgin, and to have been born of her - being both man and God, the Son of man and the Son of God... one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame person. As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three persons - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost... - Ibid, Vol.3, p.598.]

Hippolytus, who died about 235 C.E., said that God is ‘the one God, the first and the only One, the Maker and Lord of all,’ who ‘had nothing co-equal (of equal age) with him... But he was One, alone by himself; who willing it, called into being what had no being before,’ such as the created prehuman Jesus. [God, subsisting alone, and having nothing contemporaneous with Himself, determined to create the world... Beside Him there was nothing; but He, while existing alone, yet existed in plurality... If, then, the Word was with God, and was also God, what follows? Would one say that he speaks of two Gods? I shall not indeed speak of two Gods, but of one; of two persons however, and a third economy (disposition), viz., the grace of the Holy Ghost. For the Father indeed is One, but there are two Persons, because there is also the Son; and then there is the third, the Holy Spirit... whosoever omitted any one of these, failed in glorifying God perfectly. For it is through this Trinity (triados) that the Father 15 glorified. For the Father willed, the Son did, the Spirit manifested. The whole Scriptures, then, proclaim this truth. - Ibid, Vol.5, p.228.]

Origen, who died about 250 C.E., said that ‘the Father and Son are two substances . . . two things as to their essence,’ and that “compared with the Father, [the Son] is a very small light.’ [Moreover, nothing in the Trinity can be called greater or less, since the foundation of divinity alone contains all things by His word and reason... Having made these declarations the Unity of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit... - Ibid, Vol.4, p.255.]

Page 7. - The Church of the First Three Centuries, Alvan Lamson, pp.56/57

The modern popular doctrine of the Trinity derives no support from the language of Justyn Martyr: and this observation may be extended to all the ante-Nicene Fathers; that is, to all Christian writers for three centuries after the birth of Christ. It is true, they speak of the Father, Son and... the Holy Spirit, but not as co-equal, not as one numerical essence, not as Three in One, in any sense not admitted by Trinitarians. The very reverse is the fact.

COMMENT

This quote is accurate but Alvan Lamson was himself a Unitarian and so he would want to ignore all the evidence we have presented above and under ADDED MATERIAL as much as the WBTS does.

C. COMMENTS ON WATCHTOWER ARGUMENT

The only comment we can really make is that the evidence does not support the WBTS’s argument. They have quoted what someone said the early church Fathers said not the actual writings, which clearly show that each, believed in the Deity of Christ and to one degree or another the concept of the Trinity.

However, as Robert Bowman points out we need to understand a little about these men too. Most of the works were not written as “straight theology” but to give a reasoned argument about the Christian faith to the pagans around them.

Justin Martyr is regarded as an ‘apologist’ in that he gave effective answers against some of the popular misconceptions of Christianity in the second century, but he is not regarded as a theologian... [Clement’s] work is valued for some genuine insights, as a whole it has not been taken seriously since about the fourth century. Origen was in fact labelled a heretic, (though not for his views on the Trinity).” Why You Should Believe In The Trinity, p.28.

D. ADDED MATERIAL

Below we show several further fully documented quotes from early church Fathers proving the teaching of the Trinity in the first three centuries.

IGNATIUS

There is then one God and Father, and not two or three... And there is also one Son, God the Word... And God the Word was born as men... - The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Wm B Eerdmans, Vol.1, p.116.

THEOPHILUS

In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word and His wisdom. - Ibid, Vol.2, pp.100/101

COMMENT

This is earliest use of the word “Trinity” rerecorded but a footnote suggests that the way it is used shows that it was already in accepted use.

TERTULLIAN

What need would there be of the gospel, which is the substance of the New Covenant, laying down (as it does) that the Law and the Prophets lasted until John the Baptist, if thence forward the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are not believed in as Three, and as making One Only God. - Ibid, Vol.3, p.627

We have been taught that He proceeds forth from God, and in that procession He is generated; so that He is the Son of God, and is called God from unity of substance with God. For God, too, is a Spirit. Even when the ray is shot from the sun, it is still part of the parent mass; the sun will still be in the ray, because it is a ray of sun — there is no division of substance, but merely an extension. Thus Christ is Spirit of Spirit, and God of God, as light of light is kindled. The material matrix remains entire and unimpaired, though you derive from it any number of shoots possessed of its qualities; so, too, that which has come forth out of God is at once God and the Son of God, and the two are one. In this way also, as He is Spirit of Spirit and God of God, He is made a second in manner of existence — in position, not in nature; and He did not withdraw from the original source, but went forth. This ray of God, then as it was always foretold in ancient times, descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, is in His birth God and man united. - Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol.11, pp.92/93.

ORIGEN

Nevertheless it seems proper to inquire what is the reason why he who is regenerated by God unto salvation has to do both with Father and Son and Holy Spirit and does not obtain salvation unless with the co—operation of the entire Trinity. - The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Wm B Eerdmans, Vol.4, p.253.
Wherefore we have always held that God is the Father of His only—begotten Son, who was born indeed of Him, and derives from Him what He is, but without any beginning, not only such as may be measured by any divisions of time, but even that which the mind alone can contemplate within itself, or behold, so to speak, with the naked powers of the understanding. And therefore we must believe that Wisdom was generated before any beginning that can be wither comprehended or expressed. - Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol.10, pp.19.
Let him, then, who assigns a beginning to the Word or Wisdom of God, take care that he be not guilty of impiety against the unbegotten Father Himself, seeing he denies that He had always been a Father, and had generated the Word, and had possessed wisdom in all preceding periods, whether they be called times or ages, or anything else that can be so entitled. - Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol.10, pp.20.
And that you may understand that the omnipotence of Father and Son is one and the same, as God and the Lord are one and the same with the Father, listen to the manner in which John speaks in the Apocalypse: “Thus saith the Lord God, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty”. For who else was “He which is to some” than Christ? And as no one ought to be offended, seeing God is the Father, that the Saviour is also God; so also, since the Father is called omnipotent, no one sought to be offended that the Son of God is also called omnipotent. - Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol.10, pp.29.

DIONYSIUS

For it is essential that the Divine Word should be united to the God of all, and that the Holy Spirit should abide and dwell in God; and this the Divine Trinity should be reduced and gathered into one, as if into a certain head — that is, into the omnipotent God of all. - The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Wm B Eerdmans, Vol.7, p.365.

IRENAEUS

But the Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues, and all to whom He wills that God should be revealed. - Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol.5, pp. 239.

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