I’ve been meaning to do this for ages but I’ve now met the excellent Chris the Witness online and our conversation has prompted me to write a short introduction to the Trinity with Jehovah’s Witnesses in mind:
The Good News That God is Trinity:
Here’s a 5 minute gospel explanation where the Trinity is front and centre:
It’s Not So Strange, Really It Isn’t
I hope from this video you can see that God’s “THREE-ness” is not weird. It’s good news. God is an eternal Father forever loving His Son in the communion of the Spirit. If that sounds strange, consider four sets of Scriptural evidence:
How God existed before the world began: There are many verses that speak of God’s pre-creation life and they always describe a lively interplay of Persons (e.g. Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). Before the world began the Father was loving and choosing and speaking to His Son in the joy of the Holy Spirit (see for example John 17:5, 24).
How God presents Himself to us now: Jesus is constantly presented as “the Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1; John 20:31). In other words, He’s the One anointed by the Spirit beyond measure, who is also the Son of the Father. To know Jesus is to be introduced to the THREE. But these THREE are clearly ONE. These Persons are united together in the closest possible love relationship. e.g. Jesus speaks of the Father being IN Him and He is IN the Father, and it all happens IN the Spirit (John 14:10, 16-18, 23). You simply cannot understand the Gospels at all without doing business with this united three-ness to God.
How we know God: The Bible is clear about how we know God. Jesus is the Way to the Father. The Father is known only through His Son (Matthew 11:25-27; John 14:6; 2 Corinthians 4:4-6). This true spiritual knowledge can only happen by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13-16; 12:3). Therefore God is known as a Father revealed in the face of His Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
How we are saved by God: The Bible is even more clear about how we are saved. God the Father gave us His Son by the Spirit. If we receive His Son (i.e. believe in Jesus) then we get filled with His Spirit and brought before His Father. According to the Bible, believers are adopted into the very life of God (see John 1:12-13; 2 Peter 1:4).
These shouldn’t be controversial points – it’s basic Christianity. And the shape of it all is triune. When Christians articulate the doctrine of the Trinity they are not trying to impose an alien structure on the gospel but simply to explain the contours of that gospel.
Why don’t I find the word ‘Trinity’ in my Bible?
The word “Trinity” is simply a convenient label to describe the truths above. In both Old and New Testaments God is described in terms of THREE-ness as well as ONE-ness. The word Trinity is trying to communicate this. God is a UNITY of THREE – a TRI-UNITY – a TRINITY.
No-one needs to use the word “Trinity” – it would be fine to drop it from our vocabulary. It’s just that we’d soon end up wanting another word to describe what we find in the Bible. If we read the Spirit-breathed Scriptures, we meet the Father in the face of Jesus Christ. This united THREE-ness is foundational to our Christianity.
Deity, Difference and Oneness
As we read the Bible it becomes clear that the Three Persons exhibit deity, difference and unity.
Deity: Each Person is God. (cf John 17:3; Romans 9:5; 2 Corinthians 3:17)
Difference: The Persons are distinct from one another. (cf Matthew 3:16-17)
Unity: The Persons are so united that they are “in” one another (cf John 14:10, 16-18, 23)
This last point should be obvious – there cannot be a Father without Him having a Son and the Spirit of the Son cannot be without the Son (cf Galatians 4:4-6). The Three do not simply get on well with one another – they constitute one another and have done so eternally.
One devastating problem for the Jehovah’s Witness account of God is that, for them, Jehovah is not fundamentally Father. If Jehovah has not eternally had his Son then he is not eternally a Father. But for the Christian, God has always been life-giving because He has always had His Son; He has always been communicative because He has always had His Word (John 1:1); He has always been wise because He has always had His Wisdom (1 Cor 1:31); He has always been radiant because He has always had His Light (Hebrews 1:3). As an orthodox Christian I cannot help but think that Jehovah, according to the Watchtower, is life-less, mute, thoughtless and dark.
Roles, Authority and Being
From Scripture it’s plain that there is a flow to God’s life. The Father sends the Son. The Son never sends the Father. The Son obeys the Father. The Father never obeys the Son. Jesus can say things like “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Paul can say things like “God is the head of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3). Trinitarian Christians have never denied or been threatened by these verses – we rejoice in them. They speak of the flow of God: from the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit. The Persons take on different roles and there is clearly authority within the Trinity. We can speak rightly of a First, Second and Third Person of the Trinity. All this is perfectly straightforward. The problem comes when anti-trinitarians imagine a completely unwarranted conclusion: namely that such an authority structure makes the Son or the Spirit lesser beings than the Father. That would be a bizarre conclusion for two main reasons:
First, we know in every walk of life that roles and being are very different. If I told you “My boss is greater than I” you’d know exactly what I meant: he has authority over me. You would not conclude that my boss was a greater being than I, I hope! Similarly with the headship point in 1 Corinthians 11. The parallel is with marriage – husbands are the heads of wives as the Father is the head of Christ.
A JW once told me that 1 Corinthians 11:3 was Paul “completely ruling out the doctrine of the Trinity.” I asked him if he thought this verse meant God was a greater being than Christ. He said “Yes.” I asked him if, by parallel, I was a greater being than my wife. He paused and then said “Yes.” Flabbergasted I asked for clarification. He said “Well you call the shots.” I told him he clearly didn’t know my marriage. At this point his female partner was so outraged that he had to pull her away from the door-step and down the street. I yelled after her: “You know that woman are equal in being to men… AND CHRIST IS EQUAL IN BEING TO THE FATHER!!” (They haven’t been back).
It’s obvious that roles and being are different. That’s reason number one that the roles in the Trinity do not make the being of the Son or Spirit lesser. But there’s a second, more fundamental, reason why we can’t conclude that the being of the Son or Spirit is lesser…
Second, the Persons are completely and indivisibly united. We can’t think of the Father without the Son, or the Spirit without the Father. There is no “being” of God underneath or besides the three Persons. The being of God is the one, unified life of love which the Father, Son and Spirit share. And so of course they all share in that life together. There isn’t a separate or separable being of the Father and another of the Son. The Father-Son-Spirit relationship constitutes the unified being of God. There can be no “greater” or “lesser” when it comes to this being, because the Father, Son and Spirit in their life together are the being of God.
Chris tweeted me some verses to consider. I think that what I’ve said already will explain them:
In Revelation 3:12, Jesus calls the Father “my God.” Very good. I should hope so. The Son has always looked to His Father in the Trinity’s united life of worship and joy.
In Colossians 1:15, the Son is called the Firstborn. Does this make Him the first creature? Clearly not, because by Him all things were made so this very verse teaches that Christ is Creator and not creature. “Firstborn” in the Bible is about inheritance – David was the “firstborn” even though, physically, he was the eighthborn! (Psalm 89:20,27).
In 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul calls God the head of Christ. Absolutely. In the same breath he says that husbands are heads of wives. If you think the role of headship entails a greater being then you blaspheme Christ and denigrate all women.
In Matthew 24:36 Jesus says the Father knows the hour of His return but He, as Son, does not. Again, within the flow of the life of God this is exactly what we would expect. The Father sends the Son. Jesus does not do anything of His own initiative. He entrusts all things to His Father and will go when sent. This does not undermine His divine identity but expresses it as the Sent One of the Father.
A Question of My Own
If you are a Jehovah’s Witness, allow me to challenge you on your doctrine of God assumptions. Perhaps you think that unitarianism is an obvious or default doctrine of God. If you do, I suggest that this assumption comes from Aristotle and not from Scripture. I contend that Moses’ doctrine of God is not and never was the Watchtower’s. Moses and the Prophets spoke of a unified but multi-Personal revelation of God, from Genesis 1 onwards.
If you are a JW I challenge you to study these 24 Old Testament passages and see how a unitarian doctrine of God cannot handle the Scriptures – even the New World Translation. There has always been more than one Person called Jehovah – therefore the question is: to which Jehovah are you witnessing? Jesus is the eternal Son – whose eternal nature has always been to be Jehovah. Jesus is LORD!
Last year I preached on John chapter 1. A JW who was 30 years in the Watchtower came to me in tears at the beauty of the Trinity. He’d never been taught the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, only the Watchtower straw-man version. I said to him “If Jesus is only a servant of Jehovah then all he can do is bring you into his own slavery.” He said “That’s exactly what it’s felt like: slavery.” I continued… “But if Jesus is the eternal Son, then He’s come to share with you His life of love in the family of God.” We prayed gratefully to the Father and that man was liberated from slavery into the freedom of the children of God.
I pray that you too will know this freedom.