Saturday, January 16, 2010

Wrestling With the Watch Tower: The Pagan and Platonic Trinity

Despite that the early Church Fathers taught a Trinitarian understanding of God (as demonstrated here), and despite that the vast majority of the bishops assembled at Nicaea had already believed in a Trinitarian understanding of God (as demonstrated here), and despite that New Testament prophesies indicated that the Church would experience apostasy in part but would nevertheless give glory to God throughout all ages (as demonstrated here), the Watch Tower continues in their brochure, "Should You Believe in the Trinity?", and attempts to demonstrate that the doctrine of the Trinity is the result of pagan influence on apostate Christendom.

As we've seen, the doctrine of the Trinity, albeit clarified over the first centuries, nevertheless was the consistent teaching of the Church Fathers from the time of Christ to the Council of Nicaea, and from a short time thereafter until today. Thus, we already know this claim to be false; this domino is already being tipped over by the previous ones we caused to fall. Still, it is an easy claim to refute, and lest we give the perception that we haven't honestly dealt with the issue, we should answer this argument as well.

However, this is the last argument the Watch Tower makes in their brochure before examining the doctrine in light of Scripture, and I'm chomping at the bit. It's almost a struggle for me to put this post together because I'm so excited to move on to what truly matters: what Scripture says. As such, I may move through this issue quickly. I will, however, include links to resources that take it a bit more slowly and carefully.

The brochure continues in the section entitled, "How Did the Trinity Doctrine Develop?" under the heading, "What Influenced It:"


"THROUGHOUT the ancient world, as far back as Babylonia, the worship of pagan gods grouped in threes, or triads, was common. That influence was also prevalent in Egypt, Greece, and Rome in the centuries before, during, and after Christ. And after the death of the apostles, such pagan beliefs began to invade Christianity."

This just isn't true. The pagan "triads" to which the Watch Tower refers simply could not have impacted the Christian understanding of God. As examples, the brochure quotes the Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics as saying, "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." Let's look at these alleged examples.

First, Brahma, Siva and Visnu were not viewed as a trimurti until, at the absolute earliest, the 4th century. Yet, as we've seen in this series, Tertullian had taught the doctrine of the Trinity over a hundred years earlier, and the Church Fathers from the first century had taught that the Father and the Son were equal and co-eternal since well before Tertullian. If anything, this Hindu triad was influenced by Christianity, not the other way around.

Second, Osiris, Isis and Horus were not in any way similar to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. They were separate, distinct beings, and they were merely three out of many such gods. In fact, these three gods were not even the supreme god, but were instead inferior to a higher, superior god. There is simply no resemblance to the trinitarian understanding of God.

Additionally, the brochure includes an image of an alleged pagan triad, and then later images of the Christian Trinity, in an attempt to suggest the latter were influenced by the former:

India. Triune Hindu godhead,
c. 7th century C.E.
France. Trinity,
c. 14th century C.E.
Italy. Trinity,
c. 15th century C.E.

However, note that the Indian sculpture is from the 7th century, three hundred years or so after the Council of Nicaea, whose attendees had already believed in trinitarian doctrine. And a hundred years before that, Tertullian had already used trinitarian language saying the Son and the Spirit were "of the same substance" with the Father. There's simply no evidence that Christianity was influenced by paganism in developing the doctrine of the Trinity.


Nevertheless, the Watch Tower goes on to quote several sources in support of their case:

"Historian Will Durant observed: 'Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it. . . . From Egypt came the ideas of a divine trinity.' And in the book Egyptian Religion, Siegfried Morenz notes: 'The trinity was a major preoccupation of Egyptian theologians . . . Three gods are combined and treated as a single being, addressed in the singular. In this way the spiritual force of Egyptian religion shows a direct link with Christian theology.'"

The Watch Tower clearly practices to deceive by selectively quoting Durant. Durant did not claim the paganizing of Christianity occurred centuries after Christ; rather, he said the New Testament authors did it:

"Consciously or not, [John] continued Paul’s work of detaching Christianity from Judaism.…Now the pagan world—even the anti-Semitic world—could accept him as its own. Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it." (The Story of Civilization: Part III, Caesar and Christ, 1944, pp. 594-595)

It is doubtful the Watch Tower agrees with Durant's assessment. The brochure goes on:

"Thus, in Alexandria, Egypt, churchmen of the late third and early fourth centuries, such as Athanasius, reflected this influence as they formulated ideas that led to the Trinity. Their own influence spread, so that Morenz considers 'Alexandrian theology as the intermediary between the Egyptian religious heritage and Christianity.'"

Again, the author cited did not merely say post-Christ teachers were influenced by pagan religion, but that the very words of Scripture, including the Old Testament, were borrowed from Egyptian religion. As just one example, Morenz writes, "Less important, but more readily comprehensible, is the influence of the Egyptian court chronicle upon the literary form of the Israelites’ chronicle account of David and Solomon" (Egyptian Religion). The Watch Tower simply could not agree to this. The brochure continues:

"In the preface to Edward Gibbon's History of Christianity, we read: 'If Paganism was conquered by Christianity, it is equally true that Christianity was corrupted by Paganism. The pure Deism of the first Christians . . . was changed, by the Church of Rome, into the incomprehensible dogma of the trinity. Many of the pagan tenets, invented by the Egyptians and idealized by Plato, were retained as being worthy of belief.'"

Yet again, the author is not quoted in full. Gibbon goes on to say, "The doctrine of the incarnation, and the mystery of transubstantiation, were both adopted, and are both as repugnant to reason, as was the ancient pagan rite of viewing the entrails of animals to forecast the fate of empires!" Once more, the very teachings of Scripture, to which Jehovah's Witnesses agree, are called "repugnant to reason." The brochure then says,

"A Dictionary of Religious Knowledge notes that many say that the Trinity "is a corruption borrowed from the heathen religions, and ingrafted on the Christian faith." And The Paganism in Our Christianity declares: "The origin of the [Trinity] is entirely pagan."

Again the Watch Tower quotes an author who denounces their beliefs, not just those of trinitarians. See here and here.

The point is, these are secular, skeptical, often anti-Christian authors who presuppose pagan influence on Christianity and Scripture itself. Their conclusions are not the result of truth-seeking, but of seeking to fit the evidence into their preconceived model. And they state not only that post-Christ Christianity was influenced by paganism, but that such was the case for the very words of Scripture, something the Watch Tower cannot accept. Thus, using these sources in refutation of the Trinity is disingenuous and deceitful.

The brochure continues to try and link the Trinity to Plato:


"One recalls in particular the Neo-Platonic view of the 'Supreme or Ultimate Reality,' which is 'triadically represented.' What does the Greek philosopher Plato have to do with the Trinity?...

PLATO, it is thought, lived from 428 to 347 before Christ. While he did not teach the Trinity in its present form, his philosophies paved the way for it. Later, philosophical movements that included triadic beliefs sprang up, and these were influenced by Plato's ideas of God and nature.

The French Nouveau Dictionnaire Universel (New Universal Dictionary) says of Plato's influence: 'The Platonic trinity, itself merely a rearrangement of older trinities dating back to earlier peoples, appears to be the rational philosophic trinity of attributes that gave birth to the three hypostases or divine persons taught by the Christian churches. . . . This Greek philosopher's conception of the divine trinity . . . can be found in all the ancient [pagan] religions.'

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge shows the influence of this Greek philosophy: 'The doctrines of the Logos and the Trinity received their shape from Greek Fathers, who . . . were much influenced, directly or indirectly, by the Platonic philosophy . . . That errors and corruptions crept into the Church from this source can not be denied.'"

Neither the writers of the New Testament, nor the early Church Fathers, were influenced by paganism or Platonism in their understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather, "Early Christians would frame Christian doctrine in terms understand within the current culture for illustrative purposes...A close examination of the facts of history...will reveal that the early Christians did not borrow new doctrines from Plato, but employed cultural figures of speech of the day where Plato and Christianity had similarities" (Interactive Bible).

This is a practice with which everybody throughout all times--including our own--is familiar. For one, we use cultural figures of speech metaphorically; in telling my wife that our baby has fallen into deep sleep, I might say, "He's down for the count." Obviously boxing has not influenced my understanding of what it is to sleep, nor am I suggesting that a rival boxer has knocked him out. Second, we often communicate truths in terms understood by contemporary culture; some Jehovah's Witnesses have likened a man who dies as having his soul stored on a "floppy disk" with God. Computer science has not influenced the theology of the Jehovah's Witnesses, they're merely communicating doctrine using contemporary cultural references.

"The Church of the First Three Centuries says: 'The doctrine of the Trinity was of gradual and comparatively late formation; . . . it had its origin in a source entirely foreign from that of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures; . . . it grew up, and was ingrafted on Christianity, through the hands of the Platonizing Fathers.'"

The book The Church of the First Three Centuries is not an unbiased source; its publisher is the "British and Foreign Unitarian Association." Unitarianism is a liberal school of thought that denies several biblical truths, not just the Trinity, and in fact often goes so far as to deny the exclusivity of the Bible and Jesus when it comes to religious truth: "Unitarian Universalist believe an individual should be free to form his own religious beliefs. They hold an optimistic view of the nature of man..." (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1968, vol. 19, p. 20). "Unitarian ministers soon began to argue that religious truth should be based on universal religious experiences, rather than on the record of historical events. In addition, these ministers believed that religious truth and inspiration could be found in traditions other than Christianity" (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1994, vol. 20, pp. 42-43).

So we see that the Watch Tower returns to deceptively quoting biased sources which promote an agenda and with whom Jehovah's Witnesses would vehemently disagree when it comes to a variey of their own doctrines.

"By the end of the third century C.E., 'Christianity' and the new Platonic philosophies became inseparably united. As Adolf Harnack states in Outlines of the History of Dogma, church doctrine became 'firmly rooted in the soil of Hellenism [pagan Greek thought]. Thereby it became a mystery to the great majority of Christians.'

The church claimed that its new doctrines were based on the Bible. But Harnack says: 'In reality it legitimized in its midst the Hellenic speculation, the superstitious views and customs of pagan mystery-worship.'"

Adolf Harnack "was challenged by the church because of Harnack’s doubts about the authorship of the fourth gospel and other NT books, his unorthodox interpretations of biblical miracles including the Resurrection and his denial of Christ’s institution of baptism" (New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1978, p. 452). If Harnack is to be viewed as any sort of authority, then the doctrines taught by the Watch Tower are false, too.

"In the book A Statement of Reasons, Andrews Norton says of the Trinity: 'We can trace the history of this doctrine, and discover its source, not in the Christian revelation, but in the Platonic philosophy . . . The Trinity is not a doctrine of Christ and his Apostles, but a fiction of the school of the later Platonists.'"

The book A Statement of Reasons is another book by Unitarians, published by the "Boston American Unitarian Association." And its bias, its agenda, is evident from its title, which the Watch Tower has chosen not to include in the brochure: "A Statement of Reasons for Not Believing The Doctrine of Trinitarians Concerning the Nature of God and the Person of Christ."


This section of the brochure thus concludes:

"Thus, in the fourth century C.E., the apostasy foretold by Jesus and the apostles came into full bloom. Development of the Trinity was just one evidence of this. The apostate churches also began embracing other pagan ideas, such as hellfire, immortality of the soul, and idolatry. Spiritually speaking, Christendom had entered its foretold dark ages, dominated by a growing 'man of lawlessness' clergy class.—2 Thessalonians 2:3, 7...

WHY, for thousands of years, did none of God's prophets teach his people about the Trinity? At the latest, would Jesus not use his ability as the Great Teacher to make the Trinity clear to his followers? Would God inspire hundreds of pages of Scripture and yet not use any of this instruction to teach the Trinity if it were the 'central doctrine' of faith?

Are Christians to believe that centuries after Christ and after having inspired the writing of the Bible, God would back the formulation of a doctrine that was unknown to his servants for thousands of years, one that is an 'inscrutable mystery' 'beyond the grasp of human reason,' one that admittedly had a pagan background and was 'largely a matter of church politics'?

The testimony of history is clear: The Trinity teaching is a deviation from the truth, an apostatizing from it."

We already looked at what the Bible says about the apostasy, that it would be in part and that the Church would give glory to God throughout all ages. We saw that the doctrine of the Trinity was taught, albeit in language changed later to make things clearer, by the Church Fathers, and then by the Council of Nicaea, and then in the Athanasian Creed, and beyond. They were not influenced by pagans; if anything they influenced paganism. And as we've seen, the Watch Tower's sources are cited in an attempt to give the impression that unbiased scholars of history have shown otherwise, but in reality these authors and publishers have a liberal, anti-Trinitarian, often anti-Christian agenda with which the Watch Tower would disagree in large part.

Throughout this brochure, then, we've seen the Watch Tower lie, mischaracterize and deceive when it comes to the history of the doctrine of the Trinity. I will not hold a grudge, however; God will hold them accountable to that. We who stand on the side of Truth do not need to practice to deceive. And thus, it is with great excitement that we move on in the brochure to examine what the Bible says about the Trinity.


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