Monday, January 11, 2010

Wrestling With the Watch Tower: Church Fathers and the Trinity

In "Trinity Not in the Bible," we examined the Watch Tower's claim that the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly taught in Scripture. In their literature, they quote several Protestant and Catholic sources as acknowledging as much. However, we discovered that the Jehovah's Witness quote these sources out of context, and that though these sources admit that the doctrine is not explicitly and succinctly stated in the Bible, they insist it is nonetheless an accurate representation of the statements throughout Scripture that teach it.

As we'll see as we continue through their brochure, "Should You Believe in the Trinity?", the Watch Tower further misrepresents the teachings of the leaders of the early Church, which Christians often refer to as the "Church Fathers." Quoting again from the section of the brochure entitled, "Is It Clearly a Bible Teaching?":

"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."

The section continues, quoting early Church Fathers, alleging that they taught something other than the Trinity. Let's take a look at these one-by-one.


"Justin 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 and say."

Is this true? No. This is, in fact, an outright lie. Here are Justin's words from his Dialog with Trypho:

"And that Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom, has been demonstrated fully by what has been said." (Chapter 128)

First, note that Justin Martyr calls Jesus "God the Son of God." Second, he did not call Jesus a created angel, he said He appeared as an angel. He also says Jesus appeared in the burning bush, which comes from this passage in Scripture:

"Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, 'I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.' When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, 'Moses, Moses!' And he said, 'Here I am.'" (Exodus 3:1-4)

Notice that the NASB renders the Hebrew word mal'ak "angel." The word does not actually mean "angel," as in one of God's created supernatural beings. It means, instead, "messenger" (though is used to refer to angels throughout the Old Testament). What's interesting here is that it is this "messenger" who "appeared to [Moses] in a blazing fire from the midst of the bush." Yet, it is Jehovah Himself who "saw that [Moses] turned aside to look," and it is God Himself who "called to [Moses] from the midst of the bush."

This is, in fact, a powerful example of the hints of the Trinity appearing throughout the Old Testament. It is a "messenger" of God who appears in the burning bush, and at the same time it is God Himself who "called to [Moses] from the midst of the bush." The very definition of a "messenger" requires an interpersonal relationship between two persons: one who sends the messenger, and the messenger whom is sent. Yet the one Being who appears in the bush is both the Messenger and the One who sent Him. It is for this reason (and others) that many theologians have throughout the history of the Church viewed "the angel of the LORD" as the preincarnate Son of God Himself.

Now we see why Justin Martyr, in the same breath, calls Jesus "God the Son of God" and says He appeared as an angel "in the glory of fire as at the bush." He was NOT calling Jesus a created angel; He called Him God Himself, appearing as an angel. Nevertheless, the Watch Tower seems comfortable shamelessly misrepresenting his position. The brochure continues:


"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.'"

Is this true? No. Again, this is a lie. Here are Irenaeus' words from The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching:

"So then the Father is Lord and the Son is Lord, and the Father is God and the Son is God; for that which is begotten of God is God. And so in the substance and power of His being there is shown forth one God; but there is also according to the economy of our redemption both Son and Father. Because to created things the Father of all is invisible and unapproachable, therefore those who are to draw near to God must have their access to the Father through the Son. And yet more plainly and evidently does David speak concerning the Father and the Son as follows: 'Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: thou hast loved righteousness and hated unrighteousness: therefore God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.' For the Son, as being God, receives from the Father, that is, from God, the throne of the everlasting kingdom, and the oil of anointing above His fellows."

Irenaeus said "there is shown forth one God," yet "the Son is God." He wrote, "For the Son, as being God, receives from the Father, that is, from God, the throne of the everlasting kingdom." This is the Trinity in action: one God, but existing as interpersonal Persons. Again, in publishing this brochure, the Watch Tower practices to deceive. It continues:


"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 only true God.' He said that the Son 'is next to the only omnipotent Father' but not equal to him."

Is this true? No. Yet again, the Watch Tower lies. In his Exhortation to the Heathen, Clement wrote,

"For it was not without divine care that so great a work was accomplished in so brief a space by the Lord, who, though despised as to appearance, was in reality adored, the expiator of sin, the Saviour, the clement, the Divine Word, He that is truly most manifest Deity, He that is made equal to the Lord of the universe" (Chapter 10)

Here Clement calls Jesus "truly most manifest Deity" and "equal to the Lord of the universe." In The Paedagogus (The Instructor) Clement wrote,

"Now, O you, my children, our Instructor is like His Father God, whose son He is, sinless, blameless, and with a soul devoid of passion; God in the form of man, stainless, the minister of His Father's will, the Word who is God, who is in the Father, who is at the Father's right hand, and with the form of God is God." (Book 1, Chapter 2)

Again, Clement calls Jesus "God in the form of man," saying He "is God." As the doctrine of the Trinity teaches, the Father is not the Son, and vice versa, yet each is fully God. That is what Clement said as well. The Watch Tower continues to misrepresent. The brochure goes on:


"Tertullian, who died about 230 C.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 him who is begotten; he who sends, different from him who is sent.' He also said: 'There was a time when the Son was not. . . . Before all things, God was alone.'"

Is this true? Not entirely. It would not be surprising that Tertullian would preach that the Father and Son are distinct; that is an essential part of Trinitarian doctrine. Likewise, one would expect him to affirm that the Father is greater than the Son; this, too, is part of Trinitarian doctrine. In "The Father is Greater than I" I explained that Christians acknowledge that the Father has a greater level of authority, of position, than the Son.

However, did Tertullian also teach that there was a time when the Son didn't exist? No. In fact, Tertullian never even wrote the words attributed to him in this brochure. Instead, these words are a summary of one of Tertullian's teachings by Bishop Kaye in an appendix of one of his books ("Account of the Writings of Tertullian," The Anti-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, p. 1181). What did Tertullian say that led Bishop Kaye to summarize it in this fashion?

Before I quote Tertullian, I want to give a forewarning: his words do, on the surface, suggest that he believed the Son of God to have been created, having previously not existed. Many Christian apologetics resources I've referenced do not come out and acknowledge this, and though I think I understand why, I think this does a disservice to the Jehovah's Witnesses' argument. I, therefore, will readily admit this difficulty, and whereas other resources quote Tertullian in a very limited fashion, I'm going to quote him at much greater length:

"God is the designation of the substance itself, that is, of the Divinity; but Lord is (the name) not of substance, but of power. I maintain that the substance existed always with its own name, which is God; the title Lord was afterwards added, as the indication indeed of something accruing. For from the moment when those things began to exist, over which the power of a Lord was to act, God, by the accession of that power, both became Lord and received the name thereof. Because God is in like manner a Father, and He is also a Judge; but He has not always been Father and Judge, merely on the ground of His having always been God. For He could not have been the Father previous to the Son, nor a Judge previous to sin. There was, however, a time when neither sin existed with Him, nor the Son; the former of which was to constitute the Lord a Judge, and the latter a Father. In this way He was not Lord previous to those things of which He was to be the Lord. But He was only to become Lord at some future time: just as He became the Father by the Son, and a Judge by sin..." (Against Hermogenes, chapter 3, emphasis mine)

The words in bold above lend credibility to the Watch Tower's argument. Statements elsewhere in this work lend to the difficulty in calling the Son the "first-begotten Word." However, when we look at another one of his works, Against Praxeas, we get a clearer understanding of his teaching:

"For God sent forth the Word, as the Paraclete also declares, just as the root puts forth the tree, and the fountain the river, and the sun the ray. For these are προβολαί, or emanations, of the substances from which they proceed. I should not hesitate, indeed, to call the tree the son or offspring of the root, and the river of the fountain, and the ray of the sun; because every original source is a parent, and everything which issues from the origin is an offspring. Much more is (this true of) the Word of God, who has actually received as His own peculiar designation the name of Son. But still the tree is not severed from the root, nor the river from the fountain, nor the ray from the sun; nor, indeed, is the Word separated from God. Following, therefore, the form of these analogies, I confess that I call God and His Word— the Father and His Son— two. For the root and the tree are distinctly two things, but correlatively joined; the fountain and the river are also two forms, but indivisible; so likewise the sun and the ray are two forms, but coherent ones. Everything which proceeds from something else must needs be second to that from which it proceeds, without being on that account separated. Where, however, there is a second, there must be two; and where there is a third, there must be three. Now the Spirit indeed is third from God and the Son; just as the fruit of the tree is third from the root, or as the stream out of the river is third from the fountain, or as the apex of the ray is third from the sun. Nothing, however, is alien from that original source whence it derives its own properties. In like manner the Trinity, flowing down from the Father through intertwined and connected steps, does not at all disturb the Monarchy, while it at the same time guards the state of the Economy." (Chapter 8, emphasis mine)

I've emphasized much of this quote to make clear that what Tertullian is doing is giving an analogy to illustrate the way in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three and yet one at the same time. First, note that the analogies he uses are not creative in nature, at least not as he and those of his time would have understood them. Yes, we moderns with our technology and scientific methods know that a tree "proceeds" from the roots through replication of cells, and that light is not actually of the same substance as the sun. But Tertullian did not know this.

In Tertullian's mind, the tree emanates from the roots, but the roots do not create the tree. The river proceeds forth from the fountain, but the fountain does not create the river. And light is put forth by the sun, but the sun does not create the light. In each case, Tertullian viewed that which emanated from its origin as being of the same substance or essence as the originator. As such, the origin and the emanation are "correlatively joined," "indivisible" and "coherent ones." Yet at the same time, justifiably called "two things" and "two forms."

This is how Tertullian understood the Trinitarian nature of God. The Son is an expression of the preexistent substance of God. They are justifiably called "one", yet at the same time undeniably "two." While modern Christians may understandably shy away from these analogies, they nonetheless accurately represent the doctrine of the Trinity, which holds that the substance or essence of the incarnate Son eternally existed as the same substance or essence of God.

Another quote from Tertullian's work sheds further light:

"For before all things God was alone— being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself. Yet even not then was He alone; for He had with Him that which He possessed in Himself, that is to say, His own Reason. For God is rational, and Reason was first in Him; and so all things were from Himself. This Reason is His own Thought (or Consciousness) which the Greeks call λόγος, by which term we also designate Word or Discourse and therefore it is now usual with our people, owing to the mere simple interpretation of the term, to say that the Word was in the beginning with God; although it would be more suitable to regard Reason as the more ancient; because God had not Word from the beginning, but He had Reason even before the beginning; because also Word itself consists of Reason, which it thus proves to have been the prior existence as being its own substance. Not that this distinction is of any practical moment. For although God had not yet sent out His Word, He still had Him within Himself, both in company with and included within His very Reason, as He silently planned and arranged within Himself everything which He was afterwards about to utter through His Word." (Chapter 5)

So we see that Tertullian's view was that the Son of God was an expression of the preexistent Word of God, comprised of the same substance. And the Word of God was an expression of the preexistent Reason of God, comprised of the same substance. And the Reason of God eternally existed as part of God's very nature. Thus, Tertullian did not, as the Jehovah's Witnesses claim, truly teach that there was a time when the Son of God did not exist; He was always an inherent part of God's nature, but has been expressed or put forth by God to an increasing degree over time.

This is, nevertheless, certainly difficult to understand and not terribly clear. As such, I will not, in this case, attribute deceit to the Watch Tower publication I'm reviewing. Remember, though, that the previous citations of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Clement most definitely are deceptive. The brochure continues:


"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-eval [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."

Is this true? Well yes, Hippolytus--like all Christians throughout the history of the Church--believed that there is only one God who was alone throughout all eternity past until the moment of creation. But did he teach that He created the "prehuman" Jesus? No. The brochure resumes its disingenuous quality. Here is what Hippolytus said:

"Therefore this solitary and supreme Deity, by an exercise of reflection, brought forth the Logos first; not the word in the sense of being articulated by voice, but as a ratiocination of the universe, conceived and residing in the divine mind. Him alone He produced from existing things...The Logos alone of this God is from God himself; wherefore also the Logos is God, being the substance of God. Now the world was made from nothing; wherefore it is not God" (Refutation of All Heresies, Book 10, Chapter 29)

Hippolytus, like Tertullian, viewed Jesus--the "Word" or logos of God--as having proceeded or been brought forth from a preexisting substance: His own substance. Whereas all creation "was made from nothing," and thus "is not God," Jesus "alone of this God is from God himself," and thus "is God." In his commentary on Genesis 49:21-26, he wrote,

"For as the only begotten Word of God, being God of God, emptied Himself, according to the Scriptures, humbling Himself of His own will to that which He was not before, and took unto Himself this vile flesh, and appeared in the form of a servant, and became obedient to God the Father, even unto death, so hereafter He is said to be highly exalted; and as if nearly He had it not by reason of His humanity, and as if it were in the way of grace, He receives the name which is above every name, according to the word of the blessed Paul. But the matter, in truth, was not a giving, as for the first time, of what He had not by nature; far otherwise. But rather we must understand a return and restoration to that which existed in Him at the beginning, essentially and inseparably. And it is for this reason that, when He had assumed, by divine arrangement, the lowly estate of humanity, He said, Father, glorify me with the glory which I had, etc. For He who was co-existent with His Father before all time. and before the foundation of the world, always had the glory proper to Godhead."

Clearly, Hippolytus, like the other Church Fathers we've reviewed, believed Jesus eternally existed with the Father, "being God of God," and "always had the glory proper to Godhead." Hence, he argues, when the Scripture says God "bestowed on [Jesus] the name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:9), it was merely the restoration of a name formerly had. The Watch Tower has thus returned to its lies when it alleges Hippolytus taught otherwise. But it's not over; there's one more Church Father mentioned by the brochure:


"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.'"

If Origen truly wrote those words (I've yet to find the source cited), it does not matter. While certain of Origen's beliefs appear in some cases to diverge from Trinitarian orthodoxy, he nevertheless affirms the Son of God's eternal nature in his De Principiis (Book 1, Chapter 2):

"In the first place, we must note that the nature of that deity which is in Christ in respect of His being the only-begotten Son of God is one thing, and that human nature which He assumed in these last times for the purposes of the dispensation (of grace) is another...For He is termed Wisdom, according to the expression of Solomon: The Lord created me— the beginning of His ways, and among His works, before He made any other thing...He is also styled First-born, as the apostle has declared: who is the first-born of every creature. The first-born, however, is not by nature a different person from the Wisdom, but one and the same...Let no one, however, imagine that we mean anything impersonal when we call Him the wisdom of God; or suppose, for example, that we understand Him to be, not a living being endowed with wisdom, but something which makes men wise...who that is capable of entertaining reverential thoughts or feelings regarding God, can suppose or believe that God the Father ever existed, even for a moment of time, without having generated this Wisdom? For in that case he must say either that God was unable to generate Wisdom before He produced her, so that He afterwards called into being her who formerly did not exist, or that He possessed the power indeed, but— what cannot be said of God without impiety— was unwilling to use it; both of which suppositions, it is patent to all, are alike absurd and impious: for they amount to this, either that God advanced from a condition of inability to one of ability, or that, although possessed of the power, He concealed it, and delayed the generation of Wisdom."

What Origen is saying is this: Jesus, the Son of God, is God's Wisdom, and it would be absurd to believe that there was ever a time when God did not possess this quality, that which the Son of God is. In other words, Jesus has always existed as the Wisdom of God, which is as eternal as the God who possesses it. Origen continues:

"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 either comprehended or expressed. And since all the creative power of the coming creation was included in this very existence of Wisdom (whether of those things which have an original or of those which have a derived existence), having been formed beforehand and arranged by the power of foreknowledge; on account of these very creatures which had been described, as it were, and prefigured in Wisdom herself, does Wisdom say, in the words of Solomon, that she was created the beginning of the ways of God, inasmuch as she contained within herself either the beginnings, or forms, or species of all creation."

Origen makes it clear that there is no sense, whatsoever, in which Jesus, as the Wisdom of God, had a beginning. The only reason, he argues, that the Scripture refers to Him as "the beginning of His ways" (Proverbs 8:22-25) is because the beginnings of all creation were contained within the eternal wisdom of God. I'll again refrain from attributing deception to the Watch Tower in their quoting Origen as they do in this brochure, since in so doing they do not explicitly say Origen taught that Jesus had a beginning.


This section of the brochure concludes thusly:

"Summing up the historical evidence, Alvan Lamson says in The Church of the First Three Centuries: 'The modern popular doctrine of the Trinity . . . derives no support from the language of Justin [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 . . . holy Spirit, but not as co-equal, not as one numerical essence, not as Three in One, in any sense now admitted by Trinitarians. The very reverse is the fact.'"

As we've seen, this is an outright lie, on the part of Alvan Lamson, and on the part of the Watch Tower. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Origen all taught that the Son of God existed eternally as one with God. The Son and Holy Spirit proceed forth or emanate from the Father, and thus we are justified in calling them "three." Yet the three are of the same substance or essence, and thus are likewise able to be called "one." This is the clear teaching of Scripture, and thus the clear teaching of the Church Fathers.

As we continue in this series to examine the Watch Tower's publication, "Should You Believe in the Trinity?", recall this section and how it deceptively misrepresents the teachings of the Church Fathers. Those who uphold the Truth do not need to employ deceit. Only those who perpetuate falsehoods need to resort to lying to "prove" their case. Remember this, and pray for Jehovah's Witnesses everywhere who have fallen victim to the wolves in sheep's clothing that are the Watch Tower.


  1. Very well done, Chris. I suspect that the authors of that Watchtower publication never actually looked at the Church Fathers themselves, but rather derived all of their distortions from Lamson's book, which I have as a PDF.

  2. Thanks, JB, for your kind words. I'm not familiar with Lamson's book, is it something you can share with me via email? If not, I'll understand.

  3. Very well done? How so? First of all the Watchtower Society isn't so stupid as to think that people will not go back and check the references! That is what the references are there for!

    In actuality Chris demonstrates that he lacks a lot of knowledge or he is being exceedingly deceitful. We can get plenty of orthodox theologians who will say the Ante-Nicene Fathers were not Trinitarian. This is easy to prove!

    Lets start here with something simple--The Holy Spirit. Where does it say the holy spirit is God? Show me an Ante-Nicene Father who believed holy spirit was the 3rd person of the Trinity! The truth is that this was still being debated even after the Nicene Creed of 325 and is a PRONOUNCED FACT of history! The Nicene Creed ends "And we believe in the holy spirit." They didn't know what to do with it!

    Furthermore, the Athanasius creed is well recognized as not being authored by Athanasius. It is dated between the 5th and 7th centuries! It was the Creed of Constantinople of 381 that first set the stepping stones for the Full Blown Trinity Doctrine!

    It is obvious that the Early Church knew nothing of the Trinity! And it can be proven with just common sense logic.

    Ok but all this aside. Has Chris check the quotes right? Does he realize the volumes of information written by these Fathers? Further, does he realize that words can be translated differently and that his references may not have the most honest translations of what these Fathers said?

    Any devout Trinitarian is going to check quotes. There is no reason to just lie and misquote them. Then for Chris to announce so strongly that they lied is really showing his naive!

    For more information check out the following books:

    - Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?: The New Testament Evidence by James D. G. Dunn

    He is a renown Trinitarian scholar. He believe in the Trinity but notice what he says in his book.

    - Divine Truth or Human Tradition by Patrick Navas.

    He is not a JW. But he is obviously not Trinitarian. He explains numerous reasons including quoting renown apologists such as James White to present his case. His book is a must read for any Christian interested in this subject.

    - When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome by Richard E. Rubenstein

    He is a Jew. He has no interest in Christianity but thought he would do research on this subject. What he says about the development of the Trinitarian doctrine as a 3rd party historian says a lot! He won numerous awards for his book!

    By providing these authors I've presented people from several different persuasions. These are high quality books and highly readable.

  4. Also if I need to furnish actual quotes, I'll do so, but it is late right now.

    Best wishes.

  5. Jacob, I appreciate the time you took to read the post and comment. However, you didn't actually address the issue. The issue is, as demonstrated conclusively above, the Watchtower lied in each of its citations which I quote above. Whether or not the earliest Church Fathers believed in the Trinity, the Watchtower's deceit disqualifies it.

  6. I will furnish quotes. I'm sure You didn't just pop out quotes off the top of your head when you wrote this. I stated, i will furnish quotes.

    Also, you equivocate. Unless it speaks of the Trinity as also being God there is no Trinity. You have something else but it is NOT a trinity.

    The Watchtower is not being deceitful, you are just quoting from your favorite parts that may seem to contradict.

  7. You're still missing my point. I'm not alleging that the Fathers believed in the Trinity. What I'm saying is that the Watchtower lied about what it is the Fathers said in the quotes I cited above. I've demonstrated that above.

    No matter how many quotes you list here, attempting to argue that the Fathers were not Trinitarians, it will have nothing to do with this post. What you have to do is go through each of my specific citations of the Watchtower and its corresponding citation of a Father above, and show how I'm wrong. I'll look forward to that attempt.