Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wrestling With the Watch Tower: Trinity Not In the Bible

In "Not a God of Confusion," we examined the Watch Tower's argument that the Trinity cannot be true because it is confusing, and discovered that 1 Corinthians 14:33 does not say, "God is not a God of confusion," but rather, "God is not a God of disorder," prohibiting chaotic church services. Additionally, we learned that God transcends human ability to fully comprehend Him, and thus we cannot expect to grasp His nature completely.

Having refuted this plank of the Jehovah's Witness' case against the Trinity, let's continue with their brochure, "Should You Believe in the Trinity?" In the next section entitled, "Is It Clearly a Bible Teaching?" the argument continues:

"Since the Bible can 'set things straight,' it should clearly reveal information about a matter as fundamental as the Trinity is claimed to be. But do theologians and historians themselves say that it is clearly a Bible teaching?"

In attempting to answer this question, the article first asks, is the word "'Trinity' in the Bible?" It goes on:

"A PROTESTANT publication states: 'The word Trinity is not found in the Bible . . . It did not find a place formally in the theology of the church till the 4th century.' (The Illustrated Bible Dictionary) And a Catholic authority says that the Trinity 'is not . . . directly and immediately [the] word of God.'—New Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Catholic Encyclopedia also comments: 'In Scripture there is as yet no single term by which the Three Divine Persons are denoted together...'"

Okay, so no word equivalent to "Trinity" appears in the Bible. The article then asks, "is at least the idea of the Trinity taught clearly in it?"

"The Encyclopedia of Religion admits: 'Theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of the Trinity.' And the New Catholic Encyclopedia also says: 'The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not taught in the O[ld] T[estament].'

An examination of the Hebrew Scriptures themselves will bear out these comments. Thus, there is no clear teaching of a Trinity in the first 39 books of the Bible that make up the true canon of the inspired Hebrew Scriptures."

Hmm, alright. "WELL," it asks, "do the Christian Greek Scriptures ("New Testament") speak clearly of a Trinity?"

"The Encyclopedia of Religion says: 'Theologians agree that the New Testament also does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity.'

The New Encyclopædia Britannica observes: 'Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament.'

Bernhard Lohse says in A Short History of Christian Doctrine: 'As far as the New Testament is concerned, one does not find in it an actual doctrine of the Trinity.'

Thus, neither the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures nor the canon of 27 inspired books of the Christian Greek Scriptures provide any clear teaching of the Trinity."

This can seem devastating to Christians with a weak grasp of the biblical teaching of God's nature, and to those unfamiliar with arguments made against it by Jehovah's Witnesses. How can the historic Christian teaching of the Trinity be true if it's not explicitly taught in the Old or New Testaments? Both Protestant and Catholic sources alike seem to admit that their cherished doctrine is not even found in the Bible! What is the Christian to make of this?


In previous entries in this series we've seen that some of the biblical passages Jehovah's Witnesses point to do not teach what they claim they teach. In this case, however, we begin to discover that the Watch Tower's case depends not just on exposition of Scripture, but on deception and disingenuousness. Let's go back and look again at the quotes cited in the brochure.

The Illustrated Bible Dictionary is quoted as saying, "The word Trinity is not found in the Bible . . . It did not find a place formally in the theology of the church till the 4th century." Yet, this is leaving out the surrounding text of the full entry. It continues thusly:

"It [the Trinity] is, however, the distinctive and all comprehensive doctrine of the Christian faith and gathers up into the seam of a single grand generalization with respect to the being and activity of God all the major aspects of Christian truth' (Lowry)...Though the doctrine is not developed in the Old Testament, it is implicit in the divine self disclosure from the very beginning. But in accordance with the historical character or the divine revelation it is presented at first only in a very rudimentary form."

In other words, the doctrine of the Trinity is a "single grand generalization," a summarizing of "the divine self disclosure from the very beginning." The entry continues to show how the doctrine is taught, in pieces, so to speak, throughout the whole of Scripture. We see, then, that the Watch Tower is deceptive in pointing to The Illustrated Bible Dictionary in support of their argument. It does the same with the New Catholic Encyclopedia, citing it as saying "The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not taught in the O[ld] T[estament]." However, the New Catholic Encyclopedia continues:

"The mystery of the Holy Trinity was not revealed to the Chosen People of the OT. On account of the polytheistic religions of Israel's pagan neighbors it was necessary for the teachers of Israel to stress the oneness of God. In many places of the OT, however, expressions are used in which some of the Fathers of the Church saw references or foreshadowings of the Trinity."

What this is saying is that while all the intricacies of the Trinity were not clear in the Old Testament, there were hints of it. It goes on to say that the doctrine was more fully revealed in the New Testament:

"The revelation of the truth of the triune life of God was first made in the NT, where the earliest references to it are in the Pauline epistles. The doctrine is most easily seen in St. Paul's recurrent use of the terms God, Lord, and Spirit. What makes his use of these terms so significant is that they appear against a strictly monotheistic background."

Indeed, Christian sources cited by the Jehovah's Witnesses as saying the Trinity is not taught in the Bible only say that it is not explicitly and succinctly taught therein. In other words, there is no verse which says, "There is one God who exists in three eternally distinct Persons, each of whom are fully God." It is clearly disingenuous for the Watch Tower to quote them in this fashion. And as far as the non-Christian sources, is it really appropriate to point to them as authorities when it comes to biblical doctrine? Of course not.


"Scripture does not give us a fully formulated doctrine of the Trinity, but it contains all the elements out of which theology has constructed the doctrine" (New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas & F. F. Bruce, Trinity, p 1298)

The deceptive tactics of the Watch Tower aside, here's the point: no, the doctrine of the Trinity is not drawn from a single verse that teaches it succinctly. Rather, the Bible teaches it far more powerfully (I think) by expressing it in pieces throughout the 66 books of the Bible and their various authors. As the very dictionary cited by the Jehovah's Witnesses puts it, "it contains all the elements out of which theology has constructed the doctrine."

Yesterday my wife went to a thrift store and found a book entitled, Systematic Theology, written by Lewis Sperry Chafer in 1947. In God's sovereignty He delivered this book to me--via my wife (Thanks, Hon!)--while I was working on a draft of this post. For on page 272, the author quotes Dr. W. Lindsay Alexander, who put it this way:

"But though a truth be not formally enunciated in Scripture, it may be so implied in the statements of Scripture that it becomes the proper and necessary expression of these statements. In this case the doctrine is a conclusion drawn inductively from what Scripture announces, and so is as truly a doctrine of Scripture as any natural law--that of gravitation, e.g.--is a doctrine of nature...As a doctrine it is a human induction from the statements of Scripture; but the induction being fairly made, it is as much a part of God's teaching in His word as is any of those doctrines which He has formally enunciated there."

In other words, so long as the doctrine as expressed by the Church is an accurate reflection of the varied statements in Scripture, it is as much an authoritative teaching from the Bible as any other doctrine more explicitly stated therein. The Watch Tower claims the Bible "should clearly reveal information about a matter as fundamental as the Trinity is claimed to be," and they're right. But to be clear, the teaching needn't be stated succinctly or explicitly; it may be taught through the various expressions of God's nature throughout the Scripture.


As we will see as we continue analyzing the Watch Tower's argument, and as I likewise demonstrate in another series, My Lord and My God, the Bible does not come out and explicitly state that there is one God in three Persons. But it does explicitly teach the following:

1. There is one and only one God
2. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God
3. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are eternally distinct and interpersonally relate to one another

This is the clear teaching of Scripture, and though it took some time for the Church to fully compile the verses that teach it into a doctrine summarizing them, the Trinity is nonetheless the nature of God as given to us in His Word. Based on St. Athanasius' On the Trinity, published in the early 5th century, the Athanasian Creed thus declares,

the Catholic [i.e. "universal"] Faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is all One, the Glory Equal, the Majesty Co-Eternal.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if I see Thomas's exclamation [see, Gspl of Jhn 20:28] as necessarily a Trinitarian proclamation. It may have been more of an excited utterance under stressful circumstances. I know Reformers like Berkhof and Catholics of any type would disagree; but, Thomas' declaration may be more of an spontaneous outburst at seeing something so shocking as Jesus risen from the dead.