Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Trinity

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the popular name for the members of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, or simply The Watchtower. The Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) have denied the doctrine of the Trinity for many years, even publishing a pamphlet titled Should You Believe in the Trinity? Is Jesus Christ the Almighty God? published by The Watchtower. The pamphlet has a publication date of 1989, but has remained in circulation since then.  

Although I have written a somewhat more detailed review of this pamphlet, due to space I will critique one key point.  

Over the years, the Watchtower has had to face questions about several key passages of scripture. John 1:1 being a key verse that supports the Trinity, the Watchtower naturally deals with it. Most translations have the verse reading “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The reason most translations read the same is that the passage is as plain in the original Greek as it is in English. The apostle John was a simple fisherman, and his gospel is written in simple language. The words in John 1:1 are small words, the statements are straightforward, and compared to other passages of scripture, the sentence is just not very complicated to translate. In stating that Jesus is God, it destroys Watchtower theology with a single blow.  

However, the Watchtower’s New World Translation has the verse reading “the Word was a god.” Their presentation of the verse typically follows with a lengthy discussion of grammatical terms, using arguments about definite and indefinite articles and anarthrous predicates, most of which are very confusing to the average reader. Here it will suffice to say that not a single published Greek grammar supports the Watchtower’s view, and Should You Believe in the Trinity? quotes none.  

But we can learn a great deal about the Watchtower from the discussion of John 1:1. In Should You Believe in the Trinity?, they quote nine other versions of John 1:1, all with readings variant to “the Word was God.” When we look at these quotes, we learn some things about how the Watchtower operates, and how they support their teachings.  

  • Four of the quotes use the term “divine” or “divine kind” which leaves no room in Biblical theology for anything else than God Almighty. (There is only one Divine, and there cannot be a divine other than the one true God. All other so-called divines are false Gods.)
  • One of the quotes is from the Watchtower’s own New World Translation. Considering that the Watchtower had no Greek or Hebrew scholars on their translating committee (see Martin and Klann, Jehovah of the Watchtower, 176), one hopes they are not quoting their own work in support of their view, clearly a circular argument.
  • Some of the quotes are from non-English versions or extremely obscure publications which cannot be used in good faith to support a modern English translation.

So eliminating the sources which cannot in good faith be used to support their view, we are left with three sources.  

One of these three sources is a version called The Emphatic Diaglott, by Benjamin Wilson. The Emphatic Diaglott, originally published in 1864, was re-published in 1942, interestingly, by the Watchtower. It was a version they published prior to the New World Translation, which was not printed until 1950. Wilson’s version has the Greek on the left side of the page, along with the English words ‘inter-lined’ (interlinear), and the actual translation on the right side of the page. Should You Believe in the Trinity? quotes Wilson’s version as “’and a god was the Word.’ Interlinear reading.” (italics mine). An interlinear reading is a version with Greek text above and English subtitles underneth. By quoting the “interlinear reading” they are quoting the stilted interlinear on the left side, not Wilson’s actual translation. (Greek syntax and word order are different from English).  

Fig. 1. The Emphatic Diaglot, published by The Watchtower. Note "the Logos was God" on the right, and "a god was the Word" on the left.

  

If we look at Wilson’s actual translation on the right side of the page, we find “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.”  

Making this even more interesting, the Watchtower also publishes an interlinear version of their own New World Translation, officially titled Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures. It is laid out with the same left-right page layout as Wilson’s. In the Kingdom Interlinear, we find the exact opposite as Wilson’s work. If the Watchtower were to quote their own “interlinear reading” they would have printed “and god was the word” thereby contradicting their whole position.  

Fig. 2. The Kingdom Interlinear of the New World Translation, published by The Watchtower. Note the "god was the Word" on the left, and "the Word was a god" on the right.

  

So since both versions are published by the Watchtower, and if The Emphatic Diaglott can publish an accurate “interlinear reading,” then is the New World Translation’s “interlinear reading” also a valid source? And if the translation in the New World version is said to be accurate, can we use The Emphatic Diaglott’s translation, which would support Jesus being God almighty? Either way, the Watchtower is caught in conflicting versions of their own publications. And even more importantly, they are playing sleight-of-hand games with the Wilson quotes. All this raises questions about the accuracy of all the other obscure quotes in Should You Believe in the Trinity? The Watchtower does not provide source references for their quotes, making it impossible to verify their claims. So if we investigate the nine sources the JWs give for their position on John 1:1, seven of them turn out to be bogus sources that contradict The Watchtower, and the remaining two are obscure sources that are difficult to verify or do not apply to modern translation.  

Still further, if you look at verse 6 in the Kingdom Interlinear version above, you’ll note in the Greek on the left, the word for “God” is used without the definite article (which would say “the” under it in English). The whole point of the JW’s not translating John 1:1 as “God” is that the Greek has no definite article, yet here we have the same word on the same page, also without the definite article, yet the JWs translate verse 6 on the right side of the page as “God” meaning God almighty. The inconsistency due to their doctrinal bias is glaring.  

The games being played here by the Jehovah’s Witnesses show us that we cannot trust their scholarship. Their contradictions are either from a lack of integrity or ineptitude. By their denying a central tenet of the Christian faith, they cannot be considered Christian.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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2 Responses to Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Trinity

  1. JohnOneOne says:

    Dear humblesmith,

    Apart from what could be addressed regarding your other points posted above, perhaps you might like to take a second look at Benjamin Wilson’s “Emphatic Diaglott.”

    Whereas, you had cited his rendering of John 1:1 as,

    “In the beginning was the Logos,
    and the Logos was with God,
    and the Logos was God.”

    Within the scanned image (of which you provide), on the right side it actually reads,

    “In the Beginning was the LOGOS,
    and the LOGOS was with GOD,
    and the LOGOS was God.”

    It is important to take note of the fact that there are distinct forms of type being utilized by Wilson, that is, for the two uses of his English translation of theos. Whereas, we can see that his first translation of theos is represented by “GOD,” printed in all capital letters, but please take note of the way in which is it used secondly, this time only as “God,” with the initial letter being capitalized.

    Interestingly, Wilson makes clear his reasons for utilizing such differing printing methods, that is, not only here, but throughout his work. This can be found under the following heading and subheadings: “Plan of the Work,” “4. Appendix,” “Signs of Emphasis,” with this explanation:

    “The Greek article often finds its equivalent in the English definite article the, but in the majority of cases it is evidently only a mark of emphasis. It frequently precedes a substantive, an adjective, a verb, an adverb, a participle or a particle, thus pointing out the emphatic words. The Greek article and Emphatic Pronouns exercise a most important influence on the meaning of words, and sometimes throw light on doctrines of the highest interest. The sacred penmen of the New Testament, were, in the opinion of many eminent person, guided by Divine inspiration in the choice of their words: and in the use of the Greek article here was clearly a remarkable discretion displayed. In fact, the Signs of Emphasis are incorporated with the words in such a manner, that the latter cannot be stated without conveying at the same time to the intelligent mind an idea of the very intonation with which the sentence was spoken when it was written down. This peculiarity of the Greek Language cannot be properly expressed in English except by the use of typographical signs such as, Initial Capital letters, italics, small capitals, and CAPITALS.”

    “…the following system of Notation is employed in the English column of the Diaglott.
    1. Those Words rendered positively emphatic by the presence of the Greek article are printed in Small Capitals: as, “The LIFE was the LIGHT of MEN.” [such as when Wilson uses "GOD"]…
    4. All Greek Substantives, as being of more importance than other words, are also commenced with a Capital letter [such as when Wilson uses "God"].”

    “By adopting these Signs of Emphasis, it is believed certainty and intensity are given to passages where they occur, as well as vivacity and earnestness to the discourses in which they are found; thus rendering the reader, a hearer, as it were, of the life-words of Him “who spoke as never man spoke,” or which were enunciated by His inspired apostles.”

    Therefore, in light of this explanation, it becomes quite easy to appreciate the special but different significance which Wilson had given to each of these two distinct printing techniques. Furthermore, if there yet remained any question on the purposes for the differences of such dissimilar printing styles, one need only to examine Wilson’s “Interlineary Word for Word English Translation” of the Greek, that which had been provided as appearing to the left of this same page, wherein we can easily see he had translated this to read, “and a god was the word.”

    Agape, JohnOneOne.

    • humblesmith says:

      In my opinion, I think much heat and little light is spent chasing language explanations from authors who are not first-tier scholars. Anyone can write a book claiming to have an explanation of a language, and as I make no claims at being a language scholar, I do not pretend to referee between them. I have found that many mistakes have been made by people who know a little about a language…..I know a little, and do not want to make the problem worse by exposing my ignorance. Therefore, my goal is to limit my language references to those who write grammars or texts that are in use to teach Greek in accredited schools. I have found this to be the safest course of action, for these are the top scholars in the language community. As far as I know, Wilson does not fall into this category. Those that do fall into this category are the likes of Dana & Mantey, A. T. Robertson, and Daniel Wallace. I would defer to them.

      Further, this blog post was not evaluating Wilson’s translation, but rather pointing out that the Watchtower in “Should You Believe in the Trinity?” was inconsistent with how they quote sources.

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