[Quotes from the Watchtower, including their New World Translation, are in blue.]
In order to have a profitable discussion of the Trinity it is necessary that both parties have an accurate definition of the doctrine being discussed. Unfortunately, it seems that the Trinitarian position is often misrepresented in WT literature. For that reason the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses, trained by that literature, are misinformed, and any discussion of the subject becomes frustrating and fruitless.
A typical situation
In a meeting with a seasoned elder and his wife the subject was set as the Trinity. To prevent confusion I asked the elder if we could start off by defining what each of us thought the other party was defending. He, for his part, decided to recite to me from the Watchtower’s own literature the definition of the Trinity as stated in Reasoning from the Scriptures, page 405. I pointed out to him and his wife the misrepresentation in this definition and they assured me they understood. But it wasn’t long before it was obvious that this seasoned elder had been rendered unable, through WT indoctrination, to grasp the distinction between the true definition of the Trinity and the WT’s misrepresentation. Though he had given his solemn word that he would stay with the subject of the Trinity until we finished, our second meeting was our last.
We will examine the following WT books to illustrate the problem and to demonstrate that the WT’s distortion of the Trinity doctrine seems to be deliberate: Reasoning from the Scriptures, You can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, and Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom.
In this 1985 book, under the heading “Trinity Definition”, it says, “According to the Athanasian Creed, there are three divine Persons (the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost), each said to be eternal, each said to be almighty, none greater or less than another, each said to be God, and yet together being but one God. Other statements of the dogma emphasize that these three ‘Persons’ are not separate and distinct individuals but are three modes in which the divine essence exists (emphasis added).”
The first part of the definition is correct, and taken from the Athanasian Creed. But the second part is not correct, and not taken from the Athanasian Creed. It actually contradicts the first part. There is no “statement of the dogma” of the Trinity that teaches that the three Persons are not separate Persons but are three “modes”. What the WT has here defined is not the Trinity, but Modalism (also known as Oneness, Sabellianism, or Jesus-Only), a position ruled out by the creeds and long considered heretical by the Christian church. (Indeed, Modalists do not consider themselves Trinitarians and would be insulted by the WT’s misrepresentation!). True, there may be individual Christians who express ideas that are Modalistic because they are not well versed in the doctrine of the Trinity, but the WT’s Reasoning Book is claiming to define the historical, official “dogma” of the Trinity!
The nature of God is a critical area of doctrine and the literature is extensive and specific. The WT quotes from many of these sources in their publications. It is hard to believe that they do not recognize the distinction between Trinitarianism and Modalism.
This isn’t an isolated, accidental misrepresentation on the WT’s part. On the contrary, there seems to be a very deliberate attempt to confuse the issue to the WT’s own advantage in the debate. Let us look at additional evidence for that. Though not an exhaustive examination, the books chosen are important, and representative of WT literature.
On page 39 of this 1982 book the WT says, “According to the teaching of the Trinity, there are three persons in one God, that is, there is ‘one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’” The WT has here defined the doctrine and quoted the creed accurately! However, on the bottom of the very same page the WT makes these 4 statements: “[Jesus] would not have prayed to himself, would he?... Thus the Almighty God and Jesus are clearly two separate persons... Since Jesus prayed to God, asking that God’s will, not his, be done, the two could not be the same person... God and Jesus are two separate persons.” The WT has to know the Trinitarian position, having just quoted it accurately at the top of this page, that there are “three persons in one God”. Therefore, we can only assume that this repeated inaccurate insinuation that Christians believe Jesus and the Father are the same person is deliberate. The fact that they ‘get away with it’ on the very same page is astounding!
The WT’s misrepresentation has a long history and continues to the present. In this 1993 book, on page 634, the WT has reproduced a letter written by a prominent Jehovah’s Witness of the past, one of the “anointed”, Mr. C. J. Woodworth. This man is writing to ridicule what he used to believe before he became a Jehovah’s Witness. But the letter is a distortion of what the historic Christian church believes, not the least in the area of the Trinity. He says, “We believed … that Jehovah God and Christ Jesus His Son are one and the same person; that Christ was His own Father; that Jesus was His own Son; that the Holy Spirit is a person; that one plus one, plus one, equal one; that when Jesus hung on the cross and said, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou Forsaken Me,’ He was merely talking to Himself.” The only phrase in this whole section that is true of the Trinitarian position is that the Holy Spirit is a person. The rest is a very serious and deliberate misrepresentation, which the WT, by publishing this letter, is encouraging.
The above is what is called a straw man argument, deliberately misrepresenting the other party’s position to gain an advantage. As one person has so aptly put it, “The argument you so eloquently refuted was not mine!”
This explains why most Witnesses, in discussions with Trinitarians, at some point will emphatically affirm that they believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, a separate Person, as though the Trinitarian denies that.
The WT does not keep it’s own advice as given in the following recitations: “Be very careful to be accurate in all statements you make. Use evidence honestly. In quotations, do not twist the meaning of a writer or speaker or use only partial quotations to give a different thought than the person intended. (Qualified to be Ministers, p 199)”; “Jehovah’s Witnesses are an organization of truth. We should want to speak the truth and be absolutely accurate in every detail at all times. This should be so not only as regards doctrine but also in our quotations. (Theocratic Ministry School Guidebook, p 110)”; “A word of caution. All evidence must be used honestly. Do not take a quotation out of context. Make certain that what you say is exactly what the authority you are quoting had in mind to say. (Ibid. p 155).” (Emphasis added).
Because the WT has so distorted the historic Church’s position Witnesses have been rendered unable and unwilling to reason intelligently on this important doctrine. How crafty, and how culpable is the WT!
Our hope is that there are those Witnesses whose eyes God will open to see the truth of the Scriptures with regard to His nature.
Written by Greta Olsoe