Should You Believe in The Trinity?
By Eric Francke
The doctrine of the "Trinity" has been considered the litmus test for orthodoxy by most Christians for centuries. Strangely enough, the word "Trinity" does not even appear in the New Testament. The Jehovah's Witnesses, Dawn Bible Students, Christadelphians and others explicitly condemn the teaching of the Trinity as an invasion of pagan thought into the once pure doctrine of the church. In their publication "Should You Believe in the Trinity?", the Watchtower clearly spells out the results of their scholarship regarding the Trinity.
Why This Is So Important
To many people today, such questions regarding theology seem unimportant. Westerners in particular at this point in history seem to be more concerned about how a church may be meeting their social needs than what they teach about the Godhead. I would contend, however, that the identity of the Godhead is of the utmost importance. The cornerstone of the revelation of God to mankind is "I am the Lord your God...you shall have no other gods before me." ( Exodus 20:2,3). If the religionists who uphold the doctrine of the Trinity are in error, and the concept of "three-gods-in-one" in indeed just a non-biblical aberration, then they would certainly be guilty of violating this most fundamental requirement of worship. Likewise, if the Jehovah's Witnesses are wrong, and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are also fully God Almighty, then the Watchtower organization might be indicted on a failure to ascribe proper recognition to Jesus Christ, which is in itself a very grave error indeed ( John 5:23). Consequently, we can be assured that the results of a critical examination of this question would be of the greatest importance.
The Deity of Jesus Christ
In "Should You Believe in the Trinity", the Watchtower cites numerous contemporary sources to support the contention that the idea of a Triune Godhead was unknown to the early church. We won't bother chronicling them because it would be just as easy to find contemporary sources that say exactly the opposite. The real interesting and critical documentation are the quotes from the "ante-Nicene Fathers" ( leading theologians before the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.) that seem to indicate that they all expressly did not believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ. Now, even though we do not consider tradition an unimpeachable proof of doctrine, evidence of their beliefs does shed some light on the apostolic teaching of Almighty God. If the early church believed that Jesus was truly equal with God, than it would at least would lend some credence to the teaching. If, however, the concept is absent from their teaching, then that would certainly cast a very significant shadow of doubt on the possibility. After all, people like Irenaeus and Tertullian were considered "champions of orthodoxy" in the early years. Something as major as the identity of God the Son would not escape their notice if it were true. Turning to the Watchtower publication, it states on page 7 that:
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. (1)
Irenaeus, who died about 200 CE., said that the prehuman Jesus had a separate existence from God and was inferior to Him. He showed that Jesus was not equal to the "One true and only God" who is "supreme over all,and besides whom there is no other"
The booklet also says of Tertullian (230 CE.) that:
He taught the Supremacy of God. He observed "The Father is different from the Son (another), as He is greater; as is He who begets is different from he who is begotten; he who sends is from he who is sent." He also says "there was a time when the Son was not...before all things, God was alone."
They also cite Origen of Alexandria (died 254 CE.) who is quoted as saying:
"The Father and Son are two substances...two things as to their essence"
These quotes from the early church, as presented, are devastating to the Trinitarian hypothesis. If the Christians who succeeded the apostles rejected the Deity of Christ, then the weight of the evidence for the Trinity is greatly diminished. Did they indeed reject Christ as Almighty God? Since the matter is of such importance, it is critical that we review exactly what the early church fathers indeed said.
The Honesty Test
When investigating the claim by the Watchtower that the Ante-Nicene fathers did not believe in the Deity of Christ, there are a few problems. First of all, the publication does not document the source of each quote. Rev. Bob Pardon at the New England Institute of Religious Research, as well as numerous others, have repeatedly written to the Watchtower in request to be given the exact citations that are being quoted. Without knowing that, it would be impossible to know the context of each quote, which is critical because most of the early church fathers' writing were of a polemic nature against some type of heresy. Two major heresies were Modalism ( the belief that the Father/Son/Holy Spirit were not only consubstantial, but all the same person) and Docetism (the belief that Jesus Christ did not really have a body of flesh, but was only spirit). These writers combated Modalism by stressing the "separateness" and distinctiveness of persons between the Father and the Son, and they fought Docetism by stressing that Christ indeed had come in the flesh and was fully human. The quotes which are utilized by the Watchtower might be explained by the fact that the writer is engaging in some such polemic.
What they Really Said...
Looking first at the quote attributes to Justin Martyr, it must be noted that Justin Martyr never wrote that Jesus was a "created angel". That is patently false. Justin Martyr did say however, that Jesus
is called an Angel and apostle, for he declares whatever we are to know, and is sent forth to declare what is revealed (First Apology, LXIII) (2)
Justin says repeatedly that Christ manifested himself as a messenger throughout the Old Testament and was sometimes "called" the "Angel" because of his function. That same paragraph that the Watchtower is alluding to also says that it was Christ who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, and identified Himself as Jehovah. The Watchtower seems to ignore that, however. In the same chapter Justin also says that the
Son, who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God." (3)
Even more explicit is Justin's Dialogue with Trypho, which was written by and large as a defense to demonstrate that not only was Jesus the Christ, but that He was God and Lord incarnate. After reciting scores of verses supporting the premise that Jesus was the pre-existent Christ, Justin says:
Therefore these words testify explicitly that He is witnessed to by Him who established these things, as deserving to be worshipped, as God and as Christ. (Dialogue, LXIII) (4)
Justin on numerous instances equated Jesus with Jehovah. Thus, for the Watchtower to assert that Justin Martyr said Jesus was a created angel and not "God" in the proper sense shows that the Watchtower writers are completely unfamiliar with Justin Martyr altogether.
Moving on to Irenaeus of Lyons, in Against Heresies III, 6 he goes into detail about his opinion of the incarnation. He says:
We have already shown from Scripture that not one of these sons of Adam is called "god" in the proper sense of the term, or named "lord". But that He (Jesus) is Himself, in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and Incarnate Word, proclaimed by the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself. (5)
Irenaeus certainly believed that Jesus Christ was fully God. Not "a god". Eternal God. No where does he suggest that Jesus had a different "existence" or essence from God the Father. Irenaeus did, when refuting different manifestations of Modalism, stress that Jesus was a different "person" from the Father, which is consistent with Trinitarian theology. However regarding their essence, he says in Against Heresies IV:5
Christ Himself, therefore, together with the Father, is the God of the living, who spake to Moses, and who was also manifested to the fathers. (6)
So Christ is aptly termed God with the Father. In a practical sense, Irenaeus was Trinitarian, despite the fact that it had not been formally defined as dogma. Moreover, Irenaeus says that the name of God is applicable to both the Father and the Son. He says in Against Heresies III:6 that:
For the Spirit designates both (of them) by the name of God-both Him who is anointed as Son, and Him who does anoint, that is, the Father.(7)
The name of God, understood by many to be "Jehovah", according to Irenaeus, is applicable to both the Father and the Son. Thus we see that Ireneaus, as well as could be evidenced by numerous other quotes, did indeed believe in the full Deity of Jesus Christ.
How about Tertullian? In Against Praexes, chapter 27, he outlines his belief about the nature of Jesus Christ.
But God cannot cease to be nor be anything other than Himself. Now the Word is God; moreover the Word of the Lord endures forever ( Isa. 40:8)...but the truth is we find him (Jesus Christ) expressly set forth as both God and man..being both God and man with each substance having it's own distinct characteristics, since the Word is none other than God, and the flesh none other than man. (8)
Tertullian did also believe in the full Deity of Jesus Christ. Most scholars find it absurd that anyone would try to build the case that Tertullian did not believe that Jesus was truly Divine since he himself provided the language in the formulation of Trinitarian doctrine! Anyone remotely familiar with Tertullian's writing would know that. His writings are replete with detailed descriptions of how it is Christ is God, yet man, and how He is one in essence or nature with the Father.
It may also be of interest to Jehovah's Witnesses that Tertullian touches upon the designation of "angel" that was alluded to with Justin Martyr's writing. In "On the Flesh of Christ" (XIV), Tertullian explains the name was merely a description of his "function, not nature" and that He is "not to be regarded as an angel, like Michael or Gabriel". (9) That is a decisive blow to the Watchtower's theory that Jesus was Michael.
Regarding the quotes that the Watchtower uses to insist that Tertullian didn't believe in the Deity of Christ, they come a little closer to actually utilizing a direct quote. However, they are totally rent from their context, so as to misrepresent what Tertullian was actually saying. In Against Praexes, IX, we find the section that the Watchtower quotes from. In context, Tertullian was refuting Modalism, the belief that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were all the same person. The chapter opens up with the statement:
Bear in mind that this is the rule of faith which I profess; by it I testify that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are inseparable from each other, and so will you know in what sense this is said. (10)
He then goes on to refute the Modalist error that they were likewise the same "persons". It is in this context that Tertullian says that the Father was "distinct" from the Son. Likewise, when he says that the Son was "inferior" in the same chapter, he explains that it is with respect to the economy of salvation; that is, to their roles in Christ's incarnation. (11) The entire book Against Praexes is dedicated to explaining and defending the principle of "Unity in Trinity" (12) and how the three persons of the Godhead are One God in substance, yet three distinct persons.
Regarding the assertion of the Watchtower that Tertullian believed that there was a time when "the son was not", we have another example of rending words from their context. In "Against Hermogenes"(Chapter 2) Tertullian is refuting the Platonist teaching that Matter was co-eternal. He asserts that God was technically did not have the title "Lord" if there was no creation to Lord over, or "Judge" if there was no sin to judge, nor aptly called "Father" if there was not a 'Son". No where does he suggest that the Logos, ie the Son, was not eternally part of the Godhead. When he makes the statement "there was a time when neither sin existed, nor the son..."(13) it is only to make the point that existence of the titles, in this case "Judge" and "Father" are contingent upon a relative subject. Tertullian never wavers from his belief that the distinct persona of Jesus the Son, was co-eternal. Only that before he had been born of Mary, the title of Son, was not applicable to him, nor was the title "Father " applicable to God the Father. If we were to try to take these words of Tertullian in the manner that the Watchtower is portraying them, we would be forced to say that God the Father likewise had no existence before 2000 yrs ago. That of course, would be absurd.
The Watchtower also says that Tertullian wrote that "Before all things, God was alone". That phrase can be found in Chapter V of Against Praxeas. It is very important, however, to finish the paragraph to understand what Tertullian is saying.
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 logos, 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; (14)
Tertullian goes on to describe how the Word, Jesus, was with God before all things. God was never without the Logos, as an emanation of Himself. It seems highly unlikely that a research writer at the Watchtower could have taken the phrase "God was alone", and not quickly seen that this paragraph was a decisive rebuke to the thesis that they were putting forth. One can only assume that they were playing fast and loose with the truth by even suggesting that Tertullian did not believe in the divine preexistence of Christ.
The Watchtower also cites Origen of Alexandria. Origen wrote tremendous and comprehensive theological discourses, even touching upon themes that were speculative in his day. However, with respect to whether Jesus and the Father were of one substance (essence) or two, he is quite concise. The Watchtower claims that Origen wrote that they were not consubstantial. However, looking at what he actually wrote, we find in On First Principles, IV, 28 he says:
How, then, can it be asserted that there once was a time when He was not the Son? For that is nothing else than to say that there was once a time when He was not the Truth, nor the Wisdom, nor the Life, although in all these He is judged to be the perfect essence of God the Father; for these things cannot be severed from Him, or even be separated from His essence. And although these qualities are said to be many in understanding, yet in their nature and essence they are one, and in them is the fulness of divinity." (15)
Origen goes on from there to enunciate other dimensions of Trinitarian theology. Origen even uses the term "Trinity" as an accepted term, demonstrating that it was a normative part of the faith of the church.
One lesser known work of Origen's is his Dialogue with Heraclides, which was not extant until a copy was discovered in Toura, Egypt in 1941. In the discourse, he prods and questions a bishop who has been accused of holding heretical doctrine regarding the nature of Jesus Christ. After Origen carefully defined that the "Word was God", he qualifies that saying that Jesus was "God and man". "God" is defined as being "Almighty, the uncreated, who is Supreme and made all things". He further goes on to make sure that the bishop assents to the fact that Jesus was God before he came into the body. He also states:
Similarly our Savior and Lord in His relation to the Father and God of the Universe is not one flesh, nor one Spirit, but something higher than flesh and spirit, namely one God...we avoid falling into the blasphemous doctrine that denies the Deity of Christ.
Origen is quite precise about what the church believed at the time. A preexistent Logos, who existed as God Almighty with regard to substance, yet distinct in person. I suspect that if the quote which appears in the Watchtower publication even exists, it would be found to be a statement of Origen's detailing a heresy, or a discussion detailing the problem of translation of the words homoousia, hypostasis, prosopon and persona, which were the Greek and Latin words for substance and person. We can only conclude, in light of these statements, that the Watchtower has fabricated all of their scholarship in this area. Numerous other writers from the second century could be cited: Ignatius, a disciple of John's who refers to Christ as God. Melito of Sardis who states that Jesus was "by nature, both God and man", as well as scores of others. It is nothing short of deceptive and fraudulent to try to say that the Ante-Nicene church did not believe that Jesus Christ was fully Divine and of the same Substance as God Almighty.
How Did The Trinity Doctrine Develop?
This question is the next posed in the publication. The Watchtower correctly points out that the formal definition of the Trinity was not even established at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. It wasn't until later that the actual wording was set, at the Council of Constantinople in 381 CE. No one will dispute this historical fact. However, the Jehovah's Witnesses try to make an inference here that cannot be supported logically. The implication is that just because it was formally ratified in 381 CE., that somehow the understanding of the doctrine in the church was not realized until that time also. The real question is, should something be discarded as inauthentic just because it did not receive formal recognition until a relatively late time period? The Watchtower would imply that the answer is "yes". Assuming that this was the case, it would cause far more problems then it solves. For example, most Jehovah's Witnesses don't know that the church never ratified the 27 books of the New Testament until the Council of Carthage in 397 CE., two generations after it asserted the Deity of Christ at Nicaea! If we were to be consistent logically, then certainly all the books of the New Testament would be suspect, and anyone of them would be fair game to discard as spurious. "But those books were always accepted by the consensus of the church, even from the apostolic period!" one might object. With a few exceptions, that is true. Can we not, then, apply the same line of reasoning to the Trinity? We have already demonstrated that virtually every source we have from the earliest patristic writers ascribed full Deity to Jesus Christ, and many even used the term "Trinity" centuries before the Council of Constantinople. No writer thought Christ was once an angel, or that there was a time when he did not exist as God. Second century writers agree that Christ was consubstantial, of the same substance or essence as God the Father. In the Third century, we have writings by Dionysius of Rome, who detailed in The Trinity and the Incarnation a very explicit and orthodox explanation for the three persons of the Godhead. There is actually more consent and evidence to accept the Deity of Christ in the early church than there is for the canon of the 27 books of the New Testament. It is therefore very misleading to try to present the understanding of the Trinity as a late doctrine that arose in the late Fourth century. The only disagreement among Christians in the early church revolved around the semantics of describing the Godhead. Translation difficulties between Latin and Greek led to accusations that one party was preaching Monarchianism, while another would be accused of preaching tritheism. In any case, the church always agreed that there were three manifestations of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The great task lay in providing a definition that would maintain the unity and oneness of that Godhead, yet provide distinction between the persons.
What About All Those Pagan Trinities?
The Watchtower very astutely points out that there have been numerous religions in antiquity that have worshipped a divine triad or trinity. Sumer, Egypt, India, and others, which can be fairly easily verified. Again, however, the Watchtower attempts to make another indictment that is groundless. They quote historians such as Will Durant and H.G. Wells to try to demonstrate that Trinitarians merely borrowed the theology from such pagan sources. This is a very presumptuous leap. Since I am familiar with the historians and the sources quoted, I must warn that the intent of these worldly historians is to prove that virtually all of Christianity is borrowed from paganism, not the Trinity. They assume that if a pagan religion that predates Christianity has a certain belief or practice in common with Christianity, then Christianity must have borrowed it. If that is true, than we have a huge amount of "house cleaning" to do. We can start by obliterating the first eight chapters of Genesis. Adam and Eve, Noah and the rest. Any good student of mythology can tell you all about the Gilgamesh epic, which contains the Babylonian version of the Creation and the Great Flood. The ten commandments can obviously go, since they were hijacked from Hammurabi. We would have to dispense with the idea of being "washed by the blood" and being forgiven, since, as H.G. Wells claims, that was pulled directly from Mithraism. Forget the virgin birth of the Messiah, since it was also reportedly done with the virgin birth of Buddha, Zarathushtra, and How-tsieh. The crucifixion and resurrection of the savior-god Attis should therefore banish those similar concepts in Christianity. Baptism has been practiced all over the world in the times before Christ. I guess no one ever told Jesus that he was participating in paganism by being baptized in the Jordan.
The point is, we need not be terrified of the fact that there are early pagan religions that had a resemblance of the true gospel. That in itself does not show that Christianity was dependent upon them. As a matter of fact, I have discovered that the existence of such pagan mythos frequently can serve as evidence for the validity of certain doctrine. Taking the Epic of Gilgamesh, as just one example, we have a Babylonian legend which includes a discourse about a universal flood and the sole family that survived it by building a great boat. Wouldn't it make sense that, if there was indeed a world-wide flood, that the event would be repeated in the lore of the survivors and passed on in it's diversified forms? Why of course! Consequently, the existence of such stories only strengthens the validity of the Bible stories. How about the pagan trinities? Could they not also represent a corrupt form of an older spiritual truth? Although it is speculative, it is a possibility that ought to be considered. The fact is that in comparative mythology, as we move back in time past the pantheons of gods in Greece and Rome, the storm gods and fertility goddesses of the middle east, we would come upon a remarkable thing. We would see that in many cultures of the world, the most ancient religion is a monotheistic religion worshipping a single Supreme God. Of the Indo-European nations, and China, wherever we have written records, the first known religion was the worship of the one God. The Chinese called Him "Shang-ti". From Europe to India, He was "Dyaus" (note the similarity to the Greek and Latin words for god, theos and deus).
If we were to seek biblical vindacation on this we could note that the Bible says in Genesis 4:26 that at that time, men began to call on Jehovah ( Heb. YHWH). There was, likewise, one religion based on the worship of Jehovah after the flood. At Babel, however, God confused all of mankind's languages. and the nations went their own way, yet retained a belief of One God, albeit, under a different number of names and titles. The ancient monotheism in these different nations we could then consider just a corrupted version of the once universal worship of Jehovah. What does that have to do with the Trinity? It should fascinate all of us that it is in these same ancient cultures an unexplained mythology of triune Godheads. In Sumer, Akkad, India and other cultures, the idea of a trinity is implanted in the ancient mythology much like the mythology of the single Supreme God. The two mythologies seem to exist without contradiction. Mircea Eliade, who is considered the greatest expert in the world on ancient religion, says the oldest form of Egyptian religion bears "striking resemblance to John's theology of the Logos". (Eliade, History of Religious Belief) The existence of Trinitarian thought in pagan mythos is therefore not a liability to those who profess belief in the Trinity. On the contrary, such mythology may prove to be the vestiges of the ancient worship revealed by God to the antediluvian patriarchs. Such is the argument made by early apologists like Justin Martyr, who contended that many items in philosophy and paganism that resembled the Gospel were "seeds of truth" that God had planted throughout the world.
What Does The Bible Really Say?
At this point, we have to ask the real crux of the question. Does the Bible support the idea of the Trinity or not? The early church believed in the essence of the Trinity. We can either conclude that they were just all wrong, or take a closer look at the Bible. To answer this question, there are a number of texts that the booklet Should You Believe In The Trinity addresses. Most of them, of course, revolve around the question of the Deity of Christ. Without belaboring the point, I would like to review a couple of them that the Watchtower lists as critical texts. They are:
1. John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (ton theon), and the Word was _____ (theos)"
The Watchtower claims that the two references to God ton theon and theos are referring to different beings because the definite article (ton) was used on the first, but not on the latter word for God. They say that they definite article (ton) is the distinguishing mark that designates a reference to Almighty God, versus "a god". Thus, they feel vindicated in translating the last word as "a god" or "a divine being". The Christian response has been to point out that there are a number of grammatical rules that strongly favor, if not demand, that the phrase in question be translated "the word was God" rather than "a god". The Watchtower recognizes the preponderance of evidence that favors the orthodox translation, but is quick to point out that there are several exceptions to the rule in the Bible, and therefore they have the liberty to insert the indefinite article "a" in before "god". This should lead us to some interesting questions. First and foremost, how comfortable can anyone really be theologically knowing that the all teaching of their church/organization hinges on the premise that this verse ought to be translated according to the exception, rather than the rule? And just how is it, that virtually every translator of the Gospel of John (Including John's own disciple, Ignatius) seem to agree that John's writing supports the full Deity of Christ? The Watchtower can only produce some recent paraphrases and atypical and obscure translations to support their rendering. In the overall scheme of theology and church history, the reading "the word was a god" at best can be considered an anomalous and momentary "blip" on the screen. It has no substance of itself. It exists merely as a hopeful conjecture on the part of the Watchtower.
2. John 8:58 "Before Abraham came into being, I AM (ego eimi)."
Many Christians regard this as a forthright claim of Jesus being Jehovah ( cf. Exodus 3:14 "ego eimi" in the Septuagint is the Greek translation of YHWH or Jehovah). The Jews immediately picked up stones to stone him with, so it is at least implied that they who heard him did so also. The New World Translation rendered the last part of this verse as "I have been", which was defended as being consistent with the "perfect indefinite tense". ( NWT pg. 312, c. 1951). The only problem is that there is no perfect indefinite tense. It was invented to try to avoid the obvious. So, when Greek scholars raised the questions as to the justification of the NWT that utilized a nonexistent tense, the New World Translation Committee quickly changed their Greek tense to "perfect tense indicative", which is the rational stated in the most contemporary copies of the NWT. The phrase in question is certainly not in the perfect tense, but at least it is one that exists. One could get the impression that they are making this up as they go.
To make the obfuscation even worse, the Watchtower goes to even greater extremes to detach the significance of these words of Jesus to Exodus 3:14. The footnote in many New World Translations says of John 8:58 that "It is not the same as 'ho ohn', meaning 'The Being' or 'The I Am' at Exodus 3:14." (NWT, pg 1121, 1961 Version). The footnote at Exodus 3:14 essentially says the same thing, that the Lord identifies himself as "ho hon" the "Existing One". However, if you look at a copy of the Septuagint, you will see that the Lord identifies Himself as "ego eimi ho ohn" (I Am that I Am). The Watchtower conveniently has left out of it's footnotes that "ego eimi" even appears in the text, which is misleading at best. If one were just to read the NWT footnotes, they would be led to believe that the Lord does not utilize "ego eimi" as His proper name.
When you couple this with the fact that John employs ego eimi several other times for Jesus' claim's to identity ( 8:24, 13:19, 18:5) with the same implication in each, we can only conclude that John wrote his gospel with the understanding that Jesus was endowed with full Deity. The Watchtower has proven in this matter that their only adequate defense is to mislead.
Is The Bible Unclear About This Issue?
I believe that the Bible is very specific, if you know what your looking for. Many people are bewildered over this issue, thinking that since the Trinity is not defined explicitly in Scripture then there must be some doubt as to it's authenticity. If the doctrine were true, shouldn't it occupy a central place in the faith of the early church? It does! It is of greatest interest of scholars to examine the literary forms of scripture, to try to deduce what pieces of the New Testament are part of the "kerygma" or verbal preaching that defined church theology before the books of the New Testament were circulated. It is possible to find such early creeds and hymns by looking for stanzas in the text that are written in prose, or would show poetic form in the original language. Just for example purposes, one of the most obvious is the hymn which the Apostle Paul cites as being a commonly held saying in Ephesians 4:14:
"Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and the light of Christ will shine on you."
If we were to scan the New Testament for other early creeds or hymns, we find that the two most glaring ones both deal with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. They are found in 1 Timothy 3:16 and Philipians 2:6-11, as found in the Greek New Testament, KJII.
And confessedly, great is the mystery of godliness. "God was manifested in the flesh,was justified in the spirit,was seen by angels,was proclaimed in nations,was believed on in the world,was taken up in glory."
This apparently was an early creed or confession that served as the basis for orthodoxy in the church before the apostolic letters and gospels had been sufficiently circulated. Notice that it is arranged as a series of couplets, contrasting the distinction between Christ's heavenly existence, and the impact of his earthly ministry. His incarnation was an "invasion" of the Divine into the our mundane universe. Likewise, the prose of Philippians chapter two shows the exact same subject and form.
"Who subsisting in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, having become in the likeness of men; and being found in the fashion of man, he humbled himself, having become obedient until death even the death of the cross.Therefore, God highly exalted him, and gave him the name that is above all names, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of those of heaven, and those of earth, and those under the earth, and every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father."
The format, like the credal hymn from First Timothy, introduces Christ as God in heaven, stresses his voluntary manifestation on earth, and his subsequent exaltation and glorification. We know that Christ had that glory with God before his earthly ministry ( John 17:5). That poses a real problem for those who do not acknowledge that Christ is truly Almighty God incarnate. You see the second stanza of this hymn ( who thought it not robbery to be equal with God) is a specific claim to Deity. One of the most prevalent religions in Asia Minor and Greece during the time that Paul wrote his epistles was Zoroastrianism, which has many parallels to Christianity and Judaism. One of the titles which defined the Omnipotent God was "the One whose Glory cannot be robbed". To say that Christ did not think it robbery to be equal to God, although it may seem awkward to us, is merely an idiom of that culture to say that in his pre-incarnate identity, he knew that he possessed full God-hood. Even in the Old Testament, we see that Jehovah will not share His glory with anyone. ( Isaiah 42:8). Why then, does Jesus have glory with Jehovah? There are numerous such examples of where Jesus seems to usurp titles or authority only reserved to Jehovah. Just to compare a few:
Title Jehovah Jesus
Lord of Lords
Job 33:4, Isaiah 40:28
John 1:3, Col. 1:15-17
First and Last
Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, 48:12
Rev 1:17, 2:8, 22:13
Isaiah 43:3, 45:21
Ex 17:6, Isaiah 17:10
1 Cor 10:4, 1 Pet. 2:6
God (to whom we bow and confess allegiance)
Same verse applied to Jesus in Philipians 2:10
It is evident that if Jesus is not the equivalent of God Almighty, then he is the "anti-god", stealing all of God's glory and titles, when God explicitly says that He alone holds these positions and glory. After all, how many "First and Lasts" can there be? That brings us to the most crucial question in this whole study. Is Jesus to be worshipped as God? Better yet, why does Jesus receive worship that is due only to Almighty God? That is probably the most perplexing question of all.
Should Jesus Be Worshipped?
This is a question which should be entered into with all sincerity and honesty. There is one word in the Bible that is always translated as worship. The word is proskuneo in the original Greek language. There are a few other minor words that are sometimes translated worship, like sebazomai and latreuo, and leitourgein ,but they are not used exclusively in the sense of worship that is due only to the Almighty God. They are sometimes also translated as service, minister, or devotion. Proskuneo, on the other hand, is the word which represents the homage, submission and obeisance which is directed only to Jehovah. In the Bible, if it is offered to anything or anyone else, it is the gravest of sins. (see Matthew 4:9, Rev. 9:20, 14:9, 19:20). When the Apostle John fell down at the feet of the angel to worship (proskuneo) him, the angel corrected him by saying "Worship (proskuneo) God". (Revelation 19:10, 22:8,9). What, then, might be the only exception to this very important ordinance? The very same word is used some 16 times in regard to worshipping Jesus. ( Matthew 2:2, 2:8, 2:11, 8:2, 9:18, 14:33, 15:256, 18:26, 20:20, 28:9, 17, Mark 5:6, 15:19, Luke 24:52, John 9:38, Hebrews 1:6). Jesus never tried to stop anyone who worshipped him. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says that Jehovah commanded that all the angels should worship Jesus ( Hebrews 1:6). If Jesus was merely an angelic being, his allowance of people worshipping him would constitute a gross and rebellious idolatry against Almighty God. Jehovah's Witnesses try to avoid the issue by substituting another word for worship in those verses, but it is all clearly a silly example of a semantic shell game, as any concordance or Greek interlinear Bible will show. Why is the worship and adoration which Jehovah reserves only to Himself ascribed to Jesus? The answer is plain. Jesus is Lord, God and King. If one were to look at this issue with an open mind, one could not escape the fact that Jesus is the incarnation of God Almighty, sharing the Divine essence and nature, existing consubstantially, the exact representation of His Being. He cannot be "a god". If he was, then, we would all be guilty of worshipping "another god", not the Lord. For us, there is only one God. The confusion that is caused by Jehovah's Witnesses over terminology like "only-begotten" and "first born" is usually a mere demonstration of their lack of familiarity of Greek idiom and faulty logic. The Bible consistently portrays Jesus as the Lord, eternally existent as part of the God-head.
The doctrine of the Trinity is something that we find implicitly, rather than explicitly in the Bible. Although I have not defended the exact terminology of the doctrine, nor made any attempt at defining the Holy Spirit, the concept of a God-head consisting of different persons, yet with a single substance or essence is the most likely description of the God of the Bible. Otherwise, one would have absolutely no ability to account for the fact that Jesus identified himself as, and was worshipped as Jehovah Himself! For those who still are troubled by the very use of the word "Trinity", ( I can empathize with that), I would remind you that the very use of the proper name "Jehovah" is just as artificial as "Trinity". Most Jehovah's Witnesses realize, of course, that the name Jehovah is a relatively recent innovation from some scribes who didn't know what to do with the name of the Lord (YHWH).
The basic concept of the Trinity, on the other hand, is something that should be carefully considered and meditated on. Far from being an invention by Constantine and pagan "sun-god" worshippers in the Fourth century CE, the understanding that Jesus coexisted as Almighty God is found as being the orthodox belief from the very earliest days of the church. The first Christian who actually pursued the possibilities that Christ was not co-eternal with God the Father, Arius, was the one who was a latecomer in the church. Even the heresies before that time agreed with the fathers that Christ was fully Divine. Jehovah's Witnesses are clearly misrepresenting the facts in this case, just to further their denomination. That should cause grave concern for everyone involved with the Watchtower. I do not have a problem with a sincere believer who is mistaken on an issue. I think that God does give a bit of "leeway" in such cases. I get very indignant, however, when I watch churches or organizations who deliberately distort the truth, merely to advance their bogus excuse for a faith. Even worse than that, they poison the minds of their adherents, to react with hostility to others who might share with them the truth that would bring them into liberty and salvation. The Watchtower, in many instances, has done just that. I would call to account anyone who has furthered their doctrine, yet knew in their heart that they were somewhat disingenuous about the truth of the Bible. (EWF)
1. All Watchtower citations are from "Should You Believe in the Trinity" copyright Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989; pg 7
2. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Hendrickson Publishers, copyright 1994 . Vol. 1, pg. 184
4. ibid, pg. 229
5. Ibid, pg. 419
6. Ibid, pg 467
7. Ibid, pg 419
8. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Hendrickson Publishers, copyright 1994 . Vol. 3, pg. 623-624
9. Ibid, pg 534.
10. Ibid, pg 603
11. Ibid, pg 604
12 Ibid, pg 598
13. Ibid, pg 478
14. Ibid, pg 300
15. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Hendrickson Publishers, copyright 1994 . Vol. 4, pg. 376-377.
16. Dialogue with Heraclides, 1:5-10:20, Origen. Treaty on the Passover with Dialogue with Heraclides, Robert Daley, 1992.
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