A key Watchtower doctrine, and the source of many of its misconceptions about the nature of Jesus, is this: The Watchtower does not believe the doctrine of the Trinity.

It has a unitarian theology, teaching that only the Father is God, that only the Father is Jehovah.

On page 405 of its book Reasoning from the Scriptures, it explains the Trinity doctrine as follows: “… 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.”

So far so good, but then it goes on to say, “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.”

This last statement doesn’t describe Trinitarianism at all; it’s a short description of a heresy known as “modalism.”

The usual formulation of modalism is the idea that in the Old Testament, God revealed himself as the Father; in the gospels, he revealed himself as the Son; and after his ascension back to heaven, he reveals himself as the Holy Spirit.

That’s not what Christians believe, but because the Watchtower lumps the definitions together, if you tell Jehovah’s Witnesses you believe in the Trinity, they may think you are a modalist.

You will want to watch for this possibility so as to be able correct their misunderstanding.

The best way to detect this problem is to listen to the questions they ask as they try to refute the doctrine of the Trinity.

Here are some examples:

  • “Did Jesus pray to himself?”
  • “If Jesus was the Father as well as the Son, would it have made sense for him to have prayed, ‘not as I will but as thou wilt?’”
  • “When Jesus told the Pharisees, ‘I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me,” doesn’t that prove Jesus and the Father are two different persons?
  • “When the Father spoke at Jesus’ baptism, was Jesus being some sort of ventriloquist?”
  • “How could holy spirit descend on Jesus at his baptism if they were the same person?”
  • “How could Stephen see Jesus standing at the right hand of God if Jesus is God?”
  • “Is Jesus his own Father?”
  • “Who ran the universe when Jesus was a baby?”
  • “Who ran the universe when Jesus died?”
  • “To whom did Jesus commend his spirit at the moment of death—himself?”
  • “1 Corinthians 15 says that one day Jesus will deliver up the Kingdom to his Father. Will he be delivering the Kingdom up to himself?”

Many Jehovah’s Witnesses think that by asking questions like this they are disproving the Trinity.

In fact, they are disproving modalism.

When they ask me questions like that, I ask them what they are trying to get across to me.

Often, they will say something like, “I’m showing you from the Bible that Jesus and the Father are separate and distinct persons.”

Then I smile and say, “Oh, I AGREE with you.”

Many will look surprised and say, “You do?”

Then I tell them that they have just disproved a heresy called modalism which has nothing to do with the Trinity doctrine.

If they have been using the Watchtower book What Does the Bible Really Teach? to educate me as to their beliefs, I ask them to read me an excerpt which defines the Trinity.

It’s found on p. 201 and it reads as follows: “According to the Trinity doctrine… God consists of three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each of these three persons is said to be equal to the others, almighty, and without beginning. According to the Trinity doctrine, therefore, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, yet there is only one God.”

To that, I reply, “I agree with that definition wholeheartedly, and that’s what I believe the Bible teaches about God.

They will say, “But that makes no sense, and don’t just tell me it’s a mystery.”

I ask them if they would like to discuss the Trinity teaching in detail.

If they say yes, then I ask them whether they would like to start by discussing Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Depending on their reply, I will begin either with Chapter 13, “The Jesus is the God-Man Approach” or with Chapter 14, “The Holy Spirit is God Approach,” from my book,  Getting Through to Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

The conversations won’t be easy.

There will be contentious discussions.

But at least you will have refuted modalism and focused their attention on what the Bible really teaches.