Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wrestling With the Watch Tower: Not a God of Confusion

Previously in this series we saw that some of the passages the Watch Tower points to in order to cast doubt on the belief that Jesus is God do not support their case. In Jesus, the Firstborn of All Creation we found that the word "firstborn" communicates preeminence, rather than birth order. In Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son we discovered that the word rendered "only-begotten" is used of children born second to parents whose firstborn is still alive, and means "unique" rather than "only one born to." And in "The Father is Greater than I" we saw that the Father is greater than the Son in terms of authority, not nature.


Jehovah's Witnesses argue their case from other passages as well, and we'll look at those later in this series. At this point, however, the Witness at the Christian's door may try to cast doubt on the historic understanding of God's nature by claiming that it is confusing, pointing to 1 Corinthians 14:33 which reads, "God is not a God of confusion." In their brochure, "Should You Believe in the Trinity?", in an article entitled How Is the Trinity Explained?, the Watch Tower writes:

Thus, the Trinity is considered to be "one God in three Persons." Each is said to be without beginning, having existed for eternity. Each is said to be almighty, with each neither greater nor lesser than the others.

Is such reasoning hard to follow? 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?

Historically Christians have pointed out that the problem in fully understanding God's triune nature is not that it is confusing, but that it is beyond the grasp of human understanding. The Watch Tower article points as much out:

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. Monsignor Eugene Clark says: "God is one, and God is three. Since there is nothing like this in creation, we cannot understand it, but only accept it." Cardinal John O'Connor states: "We know that it is a very profound mystery, which we don't begin to understand." And Pope John Paul II speaks of "the inscrutable mystery of God the Trinity."

The article goes on to explain, truthfully, that what historic Christians claim is unable to be fully understood has led to confusion, among both the laity and the leadership:
We can understand, then, why the New Catholic Encyclopedia observes: "There are few teachers of Trinitarian theology in Roman Catholic seminaries who have not been badgered at one time or another by the question, 'But how does one preach the Trinity?' And if the question is symptomatic of confusion on the part of the students, perhaps it is no less symptomatic of similar confusion on the part of their professors."

The truth of that observation can be verified by going to a library and examining books that support the Trinity. Countless pages have been written attempting to explain it. Yet, after struggling through the labyrinth of confusing theological terms and explanations, investigators still come away unsatisfied.

Yes, theologians have struggled over the centuries to properly understand the doctrine of the Trinity. Yes, a variety of differing and sometimes conflicting terms, explanations and illustrations have been offered up as ways to better understand God's nature. It does, in fact, seem that Christians are often confused about the subject, both from the pulpit and from the pews. The article thus concludes:

HOW could such a confusing doctrine originate? The Catholic Encyclopedia claims: "A dogma so mysterious presupposes a Divine revelation." Catholic scholars Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler state in their Theological Dictionary: "The Trinity is a mystery . . . in the strict sense . . . , which could not be known without revelation, and even after revelation cannot become wholly intelligible."

However, contending that since the Trinity is such a confusing mystery, it must have come from divine revelation creates another major problem. Why? Because 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 that even Hebrew, Greek, and Latin scholars cannot really explain it?

The Jehovah's Witness' logic, then, goes something like this: Christians acknowledge that the Trinity is not fully comprehensible; the mysterious nature of the Trinity has led to confusion both at the pulpit and in the pews; 1 Corinthians 14:33 says "God is not a God of confusion"; therefore, the Trinity cannot be an accurate understanding of God's nature.

Is this logic sound? Should the Christian be concerned that the confusion that sometimes arises from the not-fully-comprehensible doctrine of the Trinity casts doubt on its validity?


To begin, it must be recognized that the Bible does, in fact, teach that God is incomprehensible, that He is "impossible to [fully] understand or comprehend" as the dictionary defines the word. Humans are finite, whereas God is infinite. Humans are temporal, God is eternal. Humans are limited, God is transcendent. Humans spacial, God omnipresent. Humans weak, God omnipotent. Humans unknowing, God omniscient. These contrasts between the nature of God and that of man go without saying to anyone familiar with the Bible. But were these not enough to establish the incomprehensibility of God, the Bible goes further and tells us explicitly that His thoughts, His attributes and His actions are beyond human understanding:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Romans 11:33)

[God] does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number. (Job 5:9)

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7)

and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19)

Each of these passages testify to the fact that God and His ways cannot be fully comprehended by we mortal human beings.


Yet, it is not as though we know nothing about God. Every book of the Bible is inherently designed to teach us about God, about His nature and about His ways. The writings contained within Scripture would be utterly meaningless if we were unable to comprehend anything about Him. But as humans, we only understand in part. As Paul wrote, "now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Until then, until we "know fully", we're instructed to understand God insofar as He has revealed Himself to us. Jesus, being "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15), is one source of this revelation. As John wrote in his gospel, "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him" (John 1:18). The Holy Spirit also teaches us truth. John wrote that "the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things" (John 14:26) and that "when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13).

Of course, these passages, in saying the Holy Spirit "will guide [us] into all the truth," should not be taken to mean that He will teach us everything that there is to know, at least not as we exist today. Rather, these verses indicate that the Holy Spirit will teach us everything that He wants us to know. God chooses to reveal to us that which He intends for us to accept, and that which He intends for us to understand to the extent we're capable.


Now, before we examine the comprehensibility of the doctrine of the Trinity, let's take a closer look at the passage that is the basis for the Watch Tower's argument. It claims that, speaking of the confusing mystery that is the Trinity, "divine revelation itself does not allow for such a view of God: 'God is not a God of confusion.'—1 Corinthians 14:33." But do Paul's words truly indicate that any confusing, mysterious doctrine must therefore not have come from God?

In actuality, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth instructing them to keep their services orderly. It is in this context that this verse appears:

Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?...If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Corinthians 14:23-33)

The picture Paul paints of the Corinthian church is one of chaos. The service is a madhouse, with every congregant prophesying at once, speaking in tongues not understood by the rest of the congregation. Paul instructs them, therefore, to give revelations in turn, one at a time. He insists that languages foreign to the majority of the congregation (tongues) only be spoken when there is a translator (interpreter) present. In justifying his instructions, Paul then tells us that "God is not a God of confusion but of peace."

But the English word "confusion" doesn't really convey Paul's meaning. The word is the Greek akatastasia, which means "instability, a state of disorder, disturbance." In Luke 21:9 it is rendered "disturbances", and in 2 Corinthians 6:5 it is translated "tumults". Indeed, this is clear from the very construct of his sentence. He is contrasting akatastasia with "peace", the Greek eirēnē, meaning (in this context) "tranquillity, harmony." Contrasting this with "confusion", as understood to mean "lack of clearness" or "perplexity", is like comparing apples to oranges; it is nonsensical. But if understood to mean "disorder, upheaval, tumult, chaos," his comparison makes perfect sense.

Therefore, a better translation of this verse would be, "God is not a God of disorder, but of peace." Sure enough, this is how several Bible versions render it:

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace (NIV)

For He [Who is the source of their prophesying] is not a God of confusion and disorder but of peace and order (Amplified Bible)

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace (NLT)

God wants everything to be done peacefully and in order (Contemporary English Version)

for God is not [a God] of tumult, but of peace (Young's Literal Translation)

Thus, this verse has no relevance when it comes to the confusion arising from doctrines which are difficult to understand. The fact that the Watch Tower interprets it this way, and furthermore uses it to try and argue against an understanding of God that has been held to be an essential teaching throughout the history of the Church, proves that it is not God's mouthpiece, His representative on earth, as it claims to be. They are merely false teachers, false prophets, wolves in sheep's clothing, and are leading their followers astray.


So we see that 1 Corinthians 14:33 does not, as the Watch Tower claims, refute the doctrine of the Trinity on the grounds that it is confusing. And as already pointed out, the Bible teaches us that we are not capable of fully grasping the nature of God and His ways. We are called, not to understand Him fully, but to accept that which He chooses to reveal to us, and to the extent we are capable. As Hank Hanegraaff, the host of "The Bible Answer Man", puts it, "we can't fully comprehend the incarnation, but we can apprehend it in Scripture" (http://hankhanegraaff.blogspot.com/2007_12_01_archive.html, emphasis mine). But why, then, is this doctrine so beyond our ability to understand it? Why is it an "inscrutable mystery", as Pope John Paul II called it?

First, it should be pointed out that it is not illogical. The Watch Tower quotes Eugene Clark as saying, "God is one, and God is three." This appears, on the surface, to violate the second law of logic, the law of non-contradiction. Simply put, this law states that "contradictory statements cannot both at the same time be true" (Wikipedia). Certainly, saying God is both one and three appears to be contradictory.

However, this law of logic is not quite so simple. The law is better stated, "it is impossible to predicate of the same thing, at the same time, and in the same sense, the absence and the presence of the same quality." In other words, something can't be said to have two contradictory qualities unless they are in a different sense or at a different time.

Such is the case with the Trinity. Despite Eugene Clark's quote, it is not simply that "God is one, and God is three." It is that "God is one what, and God is three whos." Or, as Christians have tended to put it historically, "God is one in being, and God is three in person," though the use of the word "person" is not always clear. Speaking specifically, Christians have historically taught that God is one being, but that within the nature of God there exist distinct interpersonal relationships between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each is fully God, yet each is distinct from one another, such that they can relate to one another.

Of course, this doesn't clear it up for we puny humans. The point is only to illustrate that the sense in which God is one is different from the sense in which God is three, and that is why there is no violation of logic in the doctrine of the Trinity. Still, it cannot be fully grasped. Why? Because as humans we are only familiar with beings which are only one in person and in identity. We as individuals, and all those around us, are one in both senses: one being, one person. We cannot fully grasp it because we are familiar with nothing in creation that has a a similar nature.

Indeed, this is why every analogy Christians have tried to use in illustrating the triune nature of God fails, thus exacerbating the problem. We've tried pointing to the nature of water, which can exist as a solid, as a liquid or as a gas, and yet all the while be called "water". But water does not exist in all three states at once. We've tried drawing triangles, with the Father at the top corner, and the Son and Holy Spirit in the bottom corners, but one corner of a triangle is not itself the triangle. We've tried analogy after picture after illustration and yet each fails to accurately describe what the Bible says about the nature of God. Thus, the laity and leadership of the Church alike often walk away confused.


(Nicene Creed)

It is no wonder that Paul wrote, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (Romans 11:33). He truly is beyond our comprehension. But we are nonetheless called to accept as Truth that which He reveals to us in His Word, even if we cannot fully understand it. And indeed, as we will continue to see in this series, the Bible does teach that God is triune, which is why the council of Nicea in the early 4th century decreed:

We believe in One God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only begotten, that is of the substance of the Father. God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten and not made; Himself of the nature of the Father, by whom all things came into being in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.

In the Nicene Creed the representatives of the Church with an overhwelming majority affirmed that which the Church had overwhelmingly believed since the time of Jesus: that God is one, and yet God is three. That Jesus, despite being eternally distinct from the Father, is "God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten and not made."

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