“Should You Believe in the Trinity?” – A Tract of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses - TrinityI recently received the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s tract, “Should You Believe in the Trinity?” from a sister in Christ who was convinced that that the tract contains a strong Scriptural argument that Jesus is not the Almighty God and she asked me what Scriptural evidence there is for Jesus’ divinity.[1]  The tract attacked the Trinity with a few key arguments: 1.) The Old Testament presents a strict monotheism that leaves no room for God to exist in a plurality of persons, 2.) The New Testament presents Jesus as having been created by God and as such is in a secondary position in time, power, and knowledge, 3.) Jesus is not God, but is a perfected man only, and 4.) Nobody in the first century ever thought of him as being God the Son.  I will address these arguments one by one to demonstrate that there is no good Scriptural ground to hold these positions.

The Old Testament presents a strict monotheism that leaves no room for God to exist in a plurality of persons.


The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS) is correct in stating that the Old Testament held to a strict monotheism.  The tract’s citations of the verses Exodus 20:2-3, Deuteronomy 6:4, Psalm 83:18, Isaiah 42:8, and Isaiah 45:5 are all great Old Testament verses to use to demonstrate the Scriptural principle of God’s exclusive oneness in which there is nothing in his creation that is equal to him.  Throughout the Old Testament it is clear that God is the Creator and that he is the sovereign Ruler of all things – there is none beside him, none his equal.  Reading through the Old Testament one does not see a clear presentation or description of the Creator and Ruler existing beyond a singular personal being, in other words, the doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly found in the Old Testament.

There are of course examples that one can point to in the Old Testament that could allude to a plurality of persons in this singular being, such as the chosen use of the plural form of god, Elohim, to refer to God, and God choosing to refer to himself in the plural form in Genesis 1 when he said, “Let us make man in our image.”  The WBTS does a good job of acknowledging these allusions to a Trinity in the Old Testament, but I agree with their position that these examples are just allusions and that they do not explicitly affirm God existing in a Trinity of persons as Christian doctrine holds.

Contrary to the WBTS position, and likely the position of the majority of Jews in the Second Temple era of Judaism, the strict monotheism of the Old Testament that draws an absolute Creator/creation distinction does not explicitly limit God’s existence to one person, though this would seem to be a more natural and plain conclusion of the Old Testament Scriptures presentation of God’s personhood.  We however do not only have the Old Testament, but we have Jesus who in the New Testament has revealed the Trinity to us.  In the New Testament Jesus is named as the Son of God and he is identified in the same way Yahweh is in the Old Testament, as the Creator and Ruler of all things (see John 1:1-3, 14; Colossians 1:15-20; and Hebrews 1:1-3 for examples).  Of course, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity would not be equal to his Father in divinity if he was created by his Father at some point in time, which is the position the WBTS finds in the New Testament.

The New Testament presents Jesus as having been created by God and as such is in a secondary position in time, power, and knowledge.


“Should You Believe in the Trinity?” does not reveal the WBTS’s particular doctrine concerning the identity and nature of Jesus, however, the Jehovah’s Witnesses do believe that Jesus was a created being, the archangel Michael to precise, an angel who is sparsely mentioned in the Bible, only in Daniel, Jude, and Revelation.

Michael the Archangel

They teach that Michael descended from heaven and became purely human as Jesus at the moment of Mary’s conception.  When he returned to heaven, he returned as the archangel Michael, not as the human, Jesus.  Since he returned as an angel and not a human, his resurrection was not a bodily resurrection.[2]  They justify Jesus’ archangel identity by pointing out that Jude 9 calls Michael an “archangel” and that 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that Jesus will return “with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice.”  They also point to Revelation 12:7’s description of Michael as being the leader of an army of angels, while they also recognize Scripture to describe Jesus as a leader of an army of angels (Matthew 13:41; 16:27; 24:31; 1 Peter 3:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; and Revelation 19:14-16).[3]  Since the WBTS sees from the Scriptures cited above that Michael and Jesus are both identified as an archangel (chief angel) and as an army leader, and since there can be only one archangel, and since Scripture only mentions one angel army and not two, the Jehovah’s Witnesses think “​it is logical to conclude that Michael is none other than Jesus Christ in his heavenly role.”[4]

Such a conclusion however has never been arrived in the history of Christianity, until the Jehovah’s Witnesses began to teach that Jesus is the archangel Michael.[5]  Instead the Church has historically recognized that Jesus has been identified in the New Testament as being the Creator and Ruler of all things (again, see John 1:1-3, 14; Colossians 1:15-20; and Hebrews 1:1-3 for examples) – identity markers that were exclusively attributed to Yahweh in the Old Testament.[6]  The New Testament on multiple occasions reveals that when Christ returns he will be coming with his angels to judge the world (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; and Revelation 19:13-16), but one does not have to run to the conclusion that Jesus is Michael because both Jesus and Michael are leading the army of heavenly angels.  Both of them leading the army of angels is easily harmonized when considering Christ’s preeminence above all things (Colossians 1:18).  We can relate this language of dual-leadership to the structure of the United States of America’s army – the President is the Commander and Chief of the army (and so the army is his), yet during wartime there is also a General of War who leads the army (and so they are his men and he is leading them – though he is still under his Commander and Chief, the President, who is the one who is truly over all of the army, including the General of War).

I have already listed on two occasions verses to demonstrate that the New Testament places Jesus on equal footing as Yahweh.  To these, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have prepared responses, and in this paper I will not refute all of their rebuttals, but I will address two of their objections to the clear pronouncements in Scripture that Jesus is the Creator and Ruler of all things.

First, in John 1:1, it is revealed that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  In John 1:14, we see that this Word became flesh and in the Gospel of John we see that the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  This opening passage from John indicates a personal being that sits in an equal state of divinity with God.  John 1:3 states that “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made,” and John 1:14 says that he is “the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”   The Jehovah’s Witnesses get around this very clear pronouncement that the Word is both God and Creator, along with the Father, by using the WBTS’s translation of the Bible, the New World Translation (NWT), which translates verse 1 as, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”  A strict reading of this would lead to polytheism, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t hold to a strict reading of their translation, instead they use their translation to justify that Jesus is a created being who was appointed to the position of “a god” by God through whom all things were then created.  The problem is that this translation is woefully inaccurate, because Koine Greek in which John was written does not possess the indefinite article “a” or “an,” nor did it in its original time of writing have lower-case letters to make a distinction between a hierarchy of divinity between “God” and “god.”  To further complicate their translation problem, Kyle R. Beshears points out in his book, Robot Jesus, that the WBTS “refuses to officially release any names of the NWT translation team, committee, or leadership board.”[7]  Beshears also shares that the one name that has been discovered is Fred Franz and that he is far from a qualified Bible translator having had only two undergraduate courses in Greek from the University of Cincinnati with no formal training in Hebrew.[8]

Second, and this is an argument that is found in “Should You Believe in the Trinity?,” the Jehovah’s Witnesses take the preeminence of Christ passage from Colossians 1 and pull out the phrase, “the firstborn of all creation” to indicate that Jesus was created.  This too is a translation error, or more specifically a misunderstanding of the meaning of “firstborn” in this context linguistic and cultural context.   The word used is πρωτότοκος and it can mean first born in a chronological order sense, but here it should be understood to refer “to having special status associated with a firstborn.”[9]  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses theology, Jesus was the first created angel – not the first born, because angels are not conceived and birthed into existence – so even in their theological framework, the phrase “firstborn of all creation” shouldn’t be interpreted to mean being born before any other creature, since again, angels are not born.  And within the sphere of humanity, the “firstborn” in chronology would go to Cain in Genesis 4:1, clearly not Jesus.  Such an understanding of “firstborn” as legal status and not chronology can be found in the Old Testament between Jacob and Esau.  Jacob was born second in time, yet he received the legal status of being the “firstborn” and inheritor of all that was of his father’s by that legal standing – though he was the younger son.  Calling Jesus, the “firstborn of all creation” in no way demands that he is a created being, and it goes against the clearness of the rest of the passage that presents him as being the Creator and Ruler of all things in whom the “fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19), and it goes against the Hebrews passage I have cited but not yet quoted that says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus is not God, but is a perfected man only.


The third argument laid out in the tract doesn’t understand how Jesus could be tempted if he’s God, pointing to his temptation by Satan in the wilderness after his baptism by John the Baptist.  God cannot be tempted the WTBS exclaims.  They could just as easily have also said that God is not born, God does not have flesh and blood[10], God does not get tired or hungry, God does not bleed, and he certainly does not die!  Here they fail to understand the union of the two natures of Jesus of Nazareth who is presented in the New Testament to be fully God and fully man.  Jesus just as easily does things that only God can do too.  From the moment of the Incarnation, when the 2nd person of the Trinity assumed a human nature, the divine and human natures became united so as to not be separated from his personhood – ever.  If the humanity of Christ is put to physical death, then so too is his divinity.  Since Jesus is fully God, we can say God was tired, hungry, thirsty, tempted, and killed in the person of Christ (the 2nd person of the Trinity). These feelings and experiences were experienced by Jesus in accordance to his human nature, yet due to the union of the natures the divine nature experienced them too.  Such experiences in no way reduces his divinity.  The attributes of humanity that Christ experienced of which the Father and the Holy Spirit cannot partake occurred because Jesus allowed them to occur, because he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but instead he humbled himself and chose not to make use of his divine attributes or retain the glory due to him because of his divinity. (Philippians 2:5-11)

The tract also presents an idea that if Jesus was God his death on the cross would supersede the ransom that is required under the law.  The WTBS argues that “it was only a perfect human, Adam, who sinned in Eden, not God. So the ransom, to be truly in line with God’s justice, had to be strictly an equivalent—a perfect human, “the last Adam.”  This line of thinking however misses the point that a perfect human could serve as a ransom for only one sinful human, but Christ’s death on the cross was not an exchange for the sins of one person – no – Christ’s death was an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all of mankind, and as such, the death of the God-Man, the death of the life source of all men would be suffice to atone for the sins of all of mankind – not just the sins of Adam.

Nobody in the first century ever thought of him as being God the Son. 


The final argument of the tract is that “WHILE Jesus is often called the Son of God in the Bible, nobody in the first century ever thought of him as being God the Son.” This is where my response is most important and where I would above everything else I have written point the sister in Christ who came to me with this heretical tract of the Jehovah’s Witnesses – Jesus thought of himself as God in the flesh – co-equal to his Father in divinity.  It is here that there is a mountain of Scriptural evidence to indicate that Jesus is fully God, and the WBTS doesn’t address hardly any of them in their tract.

One could ask, well, why didn’t Jesus make it more obvious in his statements to being God.  Why didn’t he directly use the words, “I am God?”  I speculate that Jesus never said those three direct words because, when he said “God” and when the apostles wrote “God” in their letters, they were almost always referring to the Father, not the Trinity. If Jesus had said that he was God, it might have been construed to mean that he and the Father were the same person, that he was the Father, which he is not. Within Christ’s theology and the theology of his apostles, God exists in three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all of whom share in the same divine essence.

An aspect of Jesus’ role as Savior of the world was to reveal the Father to us, and I think his use of Trinitarian language does just that. In John 10:30–33, Jesus says that He and the Father are one. The Greek language used indicates that he and the Father are one, not in person, but in deity. The translation might be read in English as “I and the Father, we are one.”

The word used for “one,” hen, is neuter in gender. In the Greek language, most words have gender. Using the neuter, asexual “one” instead of the masculine “one” indicates that Jesus is saying that he and the Father are one in nature, not personhood. This statement in John 10 was again a public statement in front of the Jews in the temple area, in response to the Jews pressing him to declare plainly whether he is the Messiah. When he said, “I and the Father are one,” they responded by picking up stones to stone him, because they knew that he had just claimed to be God (John 10:22–33).

The following is an abridged and slightly rearranged list of verses taken from Kenneth Samples’ book, Without a Doubt, that show various ways that Jesus and others claimed and attributed divinity to Jesus through titles, actions, and words:[11]

Divine titles proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ:

God (John 1:1; John 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1)

Lord (Mark 12:35–37; John 20:28; Romans 10:9–13; 1 Corinthians 8:5– 6; 12:3; Philippians 2:11)

Messiah (Matthew 16:16; Mark 14:61; John 20:31)

Son of God (Matthew 11:27; Mark 15:39; John 1:18; Romans 1:4; Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 1:2)

Son of Man (Matthew 16:28, 24:30; Mark 8:38; 14:62–64; Acts 7:56; Daniel 7:13–14)

Divine names, actions, or roles proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ:

Creator (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2,10–12)

Sustainer (1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3)

Forgiver of sins (Mark 2:5–7; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Colossians 3:13)

Object of prayer (John 14:14; Acts 1:24; 1 Corinthians 1:2)

Object of worship (Matthew 28:16–17; Philippians 2:10–11; Hebrews 1:6)

Object of saving faith (John 14:1; Acts 10:43; Romans 10:8–13)

Divine attributes proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ:

Eternal existence (John 1:1; John 8:58; John 17:5; Hebrews 13:8)

Self-existence (John 1:3; John 5:26; Colossians 1:16)

Omnipresence (Matthew 18:20; Ephesians 1:23, 4:10; Colossians 3:11)

Omniscience (Mark 2:8; Luke 9:47; John 2:25, 4:18; Colossians 2:3)

Omnipotence (John 2:19; Colossians 1:16–17)

Jesus made direct claims that many Jewish religious leaders considered to blasphemous:

“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (John 5:17)

“I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58)

“I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)

“I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62)

These words mean nothing however, unless Jesus could justify them to be true, which he most certainly did, through his death and resurrection.  He predicted that he would be put to death and he predicted that he would rise to life again on the third day.  This he most certainly did, leaving behind an empty tomb, appearing physically to his disciples over a forty-day period with convincing signs that he was alive again.  Through their witness of such things, even to their persecution and deaths, we can have assurance that their testimonies were true: Jesus is the God-Man, that he did die on the cross for our sins, that he was buried, and that he did have a physical bodily resurrection to new life for our salvation and future bodily resurrection to eternal life at his imminent return.


 

[1] This scenario is not true; it’s a prompt that I was given in a class.  The prompt contained other points that directed my response which are not revealed directly in this paper.

[2] “After Jesus’ Resurrection Was His Body Flesh or Spirit?” (https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/jesus-body/)

[3] “Who Is Michael the Archangel?” (https://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/bible-teach/who-is-michael-the-archangel-jesus/)

[4] Ibd.

[5] It’s also very unlikely that the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, even taught that the archangel Michael became the human Jesus for his earthly ministry, though Russell did teach that Jesus was a created being.  The first clear written teaching from the WBTS that Michael is Jesus is usually cited as being in the February 17th, 1979 issue of The Watchtower, p. 31.

[6] Bauckham, Richard. God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eermands Publishing Co. 1999) p. 6-42.

[7] Beshears, Kyle R. Robot Jesus: And Three Other Jesuses You Never Knew (USA, self-published, 2012) p 133.

[8] Ibd. p 133-134.

[9] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 894). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[10] The Mormons (LDS) do make this claim of Elohim however.

[11] Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2004), 105–108, 125–126.


Contradict Movement (Stickers, Tract, and Books): www.contradictmovement.org
Andy Wrasman’s Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/razwrasman
Reconnect Podcast: https://andywrasman.com/category/reconnect-podcast/

69. Jesus vs. Marvel vs. DC

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Or listen in iTunes!

incarnation-comic-book
Alan Shlemon created this slide for a presentation on the Doctrine of the Incarnation at this year’s series of ReThink Apologetics Conferences.

Scripture reveals that Jesus, from the instant of his incarnation, is both fully God and fully man.

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD produced the Chalcedonian Creed to counter the false explanations of the union of the two natures of Christ and the down-right heretical teachings concerning the incarnation of Christ.  Four key statements can be drawn from this creed:

1.     Christ is fully (perfectly) God.
2.     Christ is fully (perfectly) human.
3.     The divine nature and human nature are united in the person of Jesus Christ.
4.     Jesus Christ is one person.

These four statements can be placed along each side of a box.  This box is the Chalcedonian Box. As long as any teaching, anecdote, or analogy of the person and work of Christ maintains that Jesus is fully God, fully man, one person, with two natures, it lands within this box.  When one of these doctrines is distorted, or worse, erased, the teaching lands outside of the box is appropriately labeled a heresy.

Alan Shlemon, a speaker, teacher, and writer, for Stand to Reason, created a slide for a presentation he gave on the incarnation of Christ.  At the center of the slide is the Chalcedonian Box with a clipart image of Jesus in the middle of the box.  Outside of the box lies DC’s Batman and Superman and Marvel’s the Hulk and Spider-Man.

Wes and Andy discuss this excellent image Shlemon created!  Jon Pratt sits like a fly on the wall once again.

How are Batman, Superman, the Hulk, and Spider-Man not good analogies to use to explain how Jesus can be one person with two natures?  Why does it matter if we are missing the mark of Scripture with these comic book analogies?  Also, more importantly, what Christological heresies align with these modern day comic book superhero analogies to let us know that people have actually taught Christ in these throughout history, and in some cases still do!

Show Links

Alan Shlemon’s Stand to Reason Bio and Speaking Page

ReThink Apologetics Conference (This is where Alan presented his Incarnation slide)

Read the Creed of Chalcedon (451 AD)

Chalcedonian Box Links – Compiled by Andy’s Teacher’s Assistant

50. 7 Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus

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Empty Tomb

If Jesus rose from the grave, Christianity is true. If Jesus did not rise from the grave, Christianity is false.

To make a case that the resurrection of Christ occurred, it needs to be shown that Jesus died, was buried, his tomb was found empty, and people interacted with him alive again.

Robert Bowman of Credo House made a list of fourteen evidences to support the resurrection claim of the apostles and early Christian Church. This episode of reconnect focuses on the first seven evidences Bowman listed. With the help of Ben Fisher, Andy Wrasman provides details to flush out Bowman’s brief summaries of these strands of evidence.
Evidences for the Resurrection 1-7

1. Jesus’ Existence

2. Jesus’ Death

3. A Crucified Messiah

4. Joseph’s Tomb

5. Women Witnesses

6. Ancient Theories

Tune in for Episode 51 to hear evidences 8-14.
Show Links

Robert Bowman’s “14 Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ”

Reconnect Episode 7 – “Did Jesus Fulfill All Messianic Prophesies?”

Reconnect Episode 31 – “Tattooing and Flying Drones for Jesus”

Chad Williams – “Proof the Bible is the Word of God” Video

Free Excerpt Featuring 25% of Andy Wrasman’s Book, Contradict – They Can’t All Be True