Friday, 28 November 2008

Should You Believe in the Trinity? - 4

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.

I have tried to see personally every book that the WBTS refer to. This was not easy at first because the WBTS left out references to page numbers, where and when published etc. Initially, thanks to the British Library I have managed to see most of them. Since completing my research, the WBTS have issued their list of all the original publicationss.

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 4 - DEVELOPMENT OF THIS PAGAN DOCTRINE

A. MAIN WATCHTOWER ARGUMENTS

The doctrine of the Trinity is of Pagan origin, influenced by the Babylonians, Greeks, etc. Not until the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. were there any foundations for the assertion that Christ was of the same substance as God. The Council of Constantinople in 381 agreed to this doctrine and also lifted the Holy Spirit to the same level as the Father and Jesus. The doctrine was more fully defined by Athanasius.

B. PUBLICATIONS QUOTED

Page 8. - The Early Church, Henry Chadwick, p.125

Constantine, like his father, worshipped the Unconquered Sun; But if his conversion should not be interpreted as an inward experience of grace, neither was it a cynical act of Machiavellian cunning. It was a military matter. His comprehension of Christian doctrine was never very clear, but he was sure that victory in battle lay in the gift of the God of the Christians.

Page 8. - The Encyclopaedia Americana, 1977, Vol.27, p.117

It is probably a mistake to assume that the doctrine resulted from the intrusion of Greek metaphysics or philosophy into Christian thought; for the data upon which the doctrine rests, and also its earliest attempts at formulation, are much older than the church’s encounter with Greek philosophy. The earliest development of the doctrine may in fact be viewed as an attempt to preserve the balance between the various statements of Scripture, or their implications, without yielding to views which, though logical enough, would have destroyed or abandoned important areas of Christian belief... The full development of Trinitarianism took place in the West, in the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages, when an explanation was undertaken in terms of philosophy and psychology. - pp.116/1l7

Page 9. - A Dictionary of Religious Knowledge, Rev. L Abbott, 1875, p.944

The one (Christians) sees in it f the trinity in pagan religions) an evidence that God has ‘diffused and perpetuated the evidence of this doctrine throughout successive periods of time,’ while their opponents conclude that it is a corruption borrowed from the heathen religions, and ingrafted on the Christian faith.

Page 9. - Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol.12, p.458

Although the notion of a divine Triad or Trinity is characteristic of the Christian religion, it is by no means peculiar to it. In Indian religion, e.g. we meet with the trinitarian group of Brahma, Siva, and Visnu; and in Egyptian religion with the trinitarian group of Osiris, Isis, and Horus... Nor is it only in historical religions that we find God viewed as a Trinity. One recalls in particular the Neo-Platonic view of the Supreme or Ultimate Reality,” which is “triadically represented. What lends a special character to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is its close association with the distinctive Christian view of divine incarnation. In other religions and religious philosophies we meet with the idea of divine incarnation, but it may be claimed that nowhere is the union of God and man so concrete and definite, and so universal in its import, as the Christian religion.

C. COMMENTS ON THE WATCHTOWER ARGUMENT.

There are a number of quotations here, which are “red herrings.” Some people may feel that the Trinity had its roots in paganism and of course are at liberty to say so. However, the proof of this statement would be that the Trinity was not seen until the 4th-century but we have shown in the previous section that this is not true.

In “Trinity,” the WBTS present a page of coloured photos to show us that the concept of the Trinity was in all other religions and that Christianity took it from them. However, who was there first? Although Christianity is New Testament, its roots are in the God of the Jews, who created all men to start with. If the doctrine of the Trinity is correct, it did not come into existence in the First Century A.D. but in the first day of creation, i.e. before all the other religions. In other words, the other religions copied the Trinity from ‘Christianity’ not the other way round.

D. ADDED MATERIAL

Many would agree with the WBTS that Constantine was not the greatest Christian but we must not put the blame on him for something he did not do. The events leading up to the Council of Nicea and the development of the Trinity Doctrine take on a very different meaning when viewed as follows.

The council held at Antioch in the early weeks of 325 furnishes a much more overt and instructive example of synod creed-making prior to Nicea. This gathering of 59 Bishops... took advantage of their meeting together to condemn the Arian heresy and to publish a fulldress declaration of their own position. Possibly they were aware of Constantine’s determination himself to settle a controversy which was leaving a festering sore in the Church’s body, and wanted to anticipate by a fait accompli any chance there might be of the imperial decision going the wrong way. - Early Christian Creeds, J.N.D.Kelly, p.208

COMMENT

The Council at Antioch took place in January 325 and Nicea was in June. Whereas Constantine did have a hand in day to day running the above shows that the Bishops knew they needed to make a statement of faith and were prepared to do so.

If Trinitarian creeds are rare, the Trinitarian pattern which was to dominate all later creeds was already part and parcel of the Christian tradition of doctrine. - Ibid, p.23.

COMMENT

Why didn’t Nicea proclaim Trinity and indeed what was the purpose of Nicea? The answer to both these questions is that in 318 Anus began to explain who he understood Christ to be

He knew that before Origen’s time the great theologians of the Church had all believed that the Trinity had come into being when God the Father brought forth his Word and his spirit. - Creeds, Councils & Christ, G.Bray, p.106.

The result of all this was Arianism, the belief that Jesus was a divine creature who had entered the human race. Its spiritist power lay in the attractiveness of having a saviour who was like us (as a creature) yet more powerful. - Ibid.

COMMENT

The problem posed was about the person of Christ and therefore that was the question addressed. The question of the Holy Spirit was addressed at a later council in 451, here they said of Him;

Who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified.

What we see from this is that although the facts that the WBTS quote are overall true, the order of events that they deduce from them is clearly in dispute.

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