One day a friend who is a former Jehovah’s Witness asked me to explain the Trinity.
We were going to part in about 10 minutes, and I burst out laughing.
My immediate thought was, “How in the world can anyone explain such a complex concept in so short a time?”
Then I gave it my best shot anyway and did a fairly decent job.
Later I realized that it would be wise for Christians to prepare a soundbite explanation of the basics of the Trinity in order to be able to give Witnesses a solid and memorable framework for further discussions.
Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t accept the doctrine of the Trinity. In fact, the Watchtower doctrine can be stated succinctly.
Watchtower Position: Only the Father is God (Jehovah).
An expanded version of the Watchtower teaching can be stated in three statements:
- Only the Father is God (Jehovah).
- The Son, Jesus, is the archangel Michael, the first and greatest creation of Jehovah, through whom he created everything else.
- The holy spirit is an impersonal force that God sends out to accomplish his purposes.
You won’t persuade Witnesses they are wrong with a couple of soundbites. However, let me suggest some brief explanatory statements that may help you get across to them an accurate foundational understanding of what the Trinity is and isn’t.
The Basic Explanation
Here is a soundbite definition of the Trinity: “Within the nature of the one true God, Jehovah, there are three distinct persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three persons are the one God.”
Sometimes it helps to break this down into several bite-sized points:
- The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons.
- Each person is fully Jehovah God.
- There is only one God.
This can be a good starting point because in extended discussions, each of these statements can be defended from the scriptures.
Clearing Up Misconceptions
Even the best definition isn’t always adequate to convey a difficult concept. Sometimes a key part of our task is clearing up misconceptions.
Here is how the Watchtower defines the Trinity:
The central doctrine of religions of Christendom. 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. Thus some Trinitarians emphasize their belief that Jesus Christ is God, or that Jesus and the Holy Ghost are Jehovah.
The problem with the first part of that definition is that Witnesses misunderstand the “none greater or less than another” language. They immediately reject it because of John 14:28, where Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I am.”
If Witnesses give you that definition, you can clarify what you believe as follows:
“Trinitarians believe that the Father is positionally greater than the Son (John 14:28) and that the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, John 15:26).”
You can also give this analogy: “You and your boss are both equal as human beings, but at the workplace your boss is positionally greater than you are.”
The “three modes” sentence in the Watchtower’s definition suggests that it’s just a rephrasing of the Trinity doctrine. That’s wrong. You can clear up that misconception as follows: “The idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not separate and distinct individuals is called ‘modalism.’ Trinitarians consider this view heretical. Jesus obviously wasn’t praying to himself, for example.”
Sometimes Witnesses will ask me, “So then you believe Jesus is Jehovah?” I used to answer “yes” until I realized that they were misunderstanding my answer because of their own preconceptions. They consider Jehovah to be the Father only and Jesus to be his Son. Consequently, my “yes” answer was as nonsensical to them as if as if I had told them that I believe that Franklin Graham is really his father, Billy.
Here is a soundbite I came up with to clarify what I believe:
“You believe that Jehovah is the Father only. Trinitarians agree that the Father is Jehovah, but we also believe that Jesus is Jehovah, the Holy Spirit is Jehovah, and that all three of them together are Jehovah.”
If they find that confusing, don’t be surprised. The Trinity is a difficult concept. Just go over your basic definitions with them again until they understand you.Go over these foundational points as many times as you need to before going on to try to defend your Trinitarian belief.
I like to end an introductory discussion of the Trinity on a positive note: “I know you disagree with the Trinitarian concept of God. I realize that I haven’t proved it to you or even attempted to do so. All I have done so far is to clarify what you believe and what I believe so that we understand our basic positions. Only after we understand what we believe can be intelligently discuss why we believe it.”
Have you ever struggled to explain the Trinity to Jehovah’s Witnesses? Do you think some of these soundbites might help get discussions started on a solid footing?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
 Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985), p. 150
 Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985), p. 218
 Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985), p. 209
 Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985), p. 380
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), pp. 226-261
 Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985), p. 405
 See Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p. 242