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.

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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10 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.

  2. humblesmith says:

    One person made the following comment on another post about Jehovah’s Witnesses:

    “I like the way you abruptly ended our conversation in the Coptic discussion. You didn’t even give me a chance to respond. I would be happy to talk about each of your 8 points that you feel are irrefutable as well as lexical definitions of how God is used in scripture. Love to hear how you feel about them. I would also like to hear how you feel about scholars in your camp like Murray Harris who at least admits that “a god” in John 1:1 is a legitimate translation but because of his Trinitarian commitment he sees it differently. I know of at least 18 bible translations, most of which are Trinitarian, that render John 1:1 as “a god” or “a God.” Are they not scholarly enough? What about the dozens of translations that translated it “was divine” or “a divine being”??”

    As stated in my comment policy, this blog is not a discussion board but rather attempts to be educational. As long as the comments are on topic the post remains open. You did not respond to the points about the Coptic translation and it was getting repetitive so it was closed.

    As stated several times on this blog, I now say again: Anyone can write a book and make claims about languages. Many have and will likely continue to write books about Greek. I can pile up a good stack of books pointing out the errors of the Watchtower in Greek. You seem to think you have found some that support your view. The only way to quickly cut to the truth of the matter for the average reader of the blog is to only use the most authoritative sources that cannot be questioned. This is done when we look at the people who publish the Greek texts, the Greek grammar books, and the Greek lexicons. These books define the language,. and if we deny them then we have no basis for challenging anything or making any statements about the language at all.

    As such, we have a 100% agreement against the Watchtower from these language scholars. Every text by a publisher of Greek grammars disagree with the Watchtower. No Greek scholar supports the NWT’s view. Not Dana & Mantey’s A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (p.140, 149-151), not Robertson & Davis A New Short Grammar of the Greek Testament (p.279), not A. T. Robertson’s The Minister and His Greek New Testament (p.67), and not Wallace Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (p.266 ff.). These four Greek grammars specifically refute the NWT view, but more importanly represent a significant portion of modern language study. Again, if these are wrong, we can make no objective statement about the language, for we would have no basis from which to make the claim.

    There are not 18 English translations that support John 1:1 as “the word was a god.” If you have such, please give the references. As with the Coptic, the grammar rules of other languages regarding articles cannot be used to make rules about English grammar.

    Not counting the Watchtower publications, I have about 19 English translations, not counting paraphrases. Sixteen of them say “the word was God.” One says “the word was fully God.” One says “the word was truly God.” One says “the Word was to His essence absolute deity.” Other than the Watchtower, every one of the English translations I have ever seen hold this view. The ones that the Watchtower quoted, presumably their strongest case, are refuted in the post above, as are the use of terms “divine kind.” If you have any other English translations that disagree, please give the reference.

    I also refer you to the post above for more specifics.

  3. NickHawaii says:

    Again, you are very mistaken. You didn’t look hard enough. You cannot state these scholars did not have a command of Greek. Beyond that, most of these translations are from Trinitarians. Many Bible translations also have John 1:1 as “was divine.” I’ll continue further after I hear your response to this:

    1. “and the Word was a god.” The New Testament in An Improved Version, 1808.
    2. “the Word was a God.” Kneeland, The New Testament in Greek and English, 1822.
    3. “and a god was the Word.” (in the interlinear section) Benjamin Wilson, Emphatic Diaglott. The right-hand column reads: “the Word was with GOD and the LOGOS was God.” (Note: “GOD” [the Father], and “God [small ‘od’] the Logos, Jesus).
    4. “and the Word was God.” More literally ‘and a God (i.e. a Divine Being) was the Word.’ Robert Young, Concise Commentary on the Holy Bible, 1886.
    5. “The Word was with the Deity, and the Word was Diestic.” C.A. Totten, The Gospel of History, 1900.
    6. “The Word was itself of divine being.” Curt Stage, (German), The New Testament, 1907.
    7. “and (a) God was the Word.” George William Horner, The Coptic Version of the New Testament, in the Southern Dialect, 1911.
    8. “And God of a sort the Word was.” Ludwig Thimme, (German), The New Testament, 1919.
    9. “The Logos was divine.” The New Testament, A New Translation, Moffatt, 1935.
    10. “The Word was divine.” An American Translation, 1939.
    11. “and the Word was god.” (note: lower case ‘g’ used with the Word being “god,” C.C. Torrey, The Four Gospels, 2nd ed. 1947.
    12. “And the Word was of divine Weightiness.” F. Pfaefflin, (German), The New Testament, 1949.
    13. “the Word was divine,” H.J. Schonfield, The Authentic New Testament, 1956.
    14. “the Word was a God.” J.L. Tomanek, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Anointed, 1958.
    15. “The nature of the Word was the same as the Nature of God.” William Barclay, The New Testament, 1968.
    16. “The Word was with God and shared his nature.” Or “The Word was divine.” Translators’ New Testament, 1973.
    17. “The Word was divine.” M.Zarwick and M.Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the New Testament, Rome Biblical Institute, 1974.
    18. “The Message was deity.” Note: small “d” to denote guqlity. The Simple English Bible, 1981.
    19. “In a beginning was the [Marshal] [Word] and the [Marshal] [Word] was with the God and the [Marshal] [Word] was a god.” 21st Century New Testament, V. Capel, 2001.
    20. “Before the origin of this world existed the LOGOS, who was then with the Supreme God, was himself a divine person” Edward Harwood, A Liberal Translation of the New Testament; being An Attempt to translate the Sacred Writings with the same Freedom, Spirit, and Elegance, with which other English Translations from the Greek Classics have lately been executed with select Notes, Critical and Explanatory. London, 1768, Vol. 1.
    21. “the Word was God.” Newcome, 1796. In 1808 Thomas Belsham and a Unitarian committee revised Newcome’s translation after his death in 1800. This revised Translation was published in London in 1808 and in Boston in 1809 to read “the Word was a god.”
    22. “the Word was divine” Edgar J. Goodspeed, The complete Bible, an American Translation.
    23. “the Word was god.” [note the small “g”] The Four Gospels: A New Translation by Charles Cutler Torrey, 1933, 1947.
    24. “And the logos was a god.” Leicester Ambrose Sawyer, 1879. The Final Theology, Vol. 1, “Introduction to the New Testament, Historic, Theologic and Critical, p. 353.
    25. “And was a god.” A.N. Janneris, Lecturer of Post-classical and Modern Greek at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. c:1901.
    26. “And the Word was of divine nature.” Ernest Findlay Scott, 1932. The Literature of the New Testament, 1932.
    27. “The Word was a God.” James L. Tomanec, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Anointed, 1958.
    28. “And a god (or, of a divine kind) was the Word.” Siegfried Schulz, Das Evangelium nach Johannes, 1975.
    29. “itself a God/god was the Word/word.” Friedrich Rittenlmeyer, Letters Over The Johannes Gospel, Stuttgart Publishing, 1938.
    30. “He was with God and in all like God.” The Bible in Today’s German: The Good Message, Stuttgart, 1982.
    31. “and the Word was like the Almighty One.” The New Simplified Bible, 2003.
    32. “The Word was with God and the Word was powerful.”
    33. “The word was a god.” Revised Version-Improved and Corrected.
    34. “The Word was a god” The New Testament, An improved version, Thomas Belsham, 1809.
    35. “The word was a divine being” Jesuit John L. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible, 1965.
    36. “and the word was [a] God.” Timothy Kenrick: An exposition of the Historical Writings of the New Testament, Vol.II.

    • humblesmith says:

      Much of this is already dealt with in the post above, namely all the references to “deity” or “divine” and Wilson’s Diaglott. Again, please read the posts and deal with the topics presented before pasting things like this.

      I cannot look up some of them without better citations. There is not enough there to look up the references. (32, as one example of several)
      Also: non-English translations do not apply to English, as we already pointed out in the previous post.

      Subtracting those, there are actually very few left. They are either commentaries, paraphrases, single author versions from a very long time ago. With the Watchtower’s history of misquoting (again, see the post above), I do not have much confidence in these citations. I will research them as I have time.

      Please do not “continue further after I hear your response.” This is not a message board. Per the comment policy, state your position in a post or two and do not wait for me, per the comment policy.

  4. NickHawaii says:

    Regarding Professor Jason BeDuhn, I have 6 pages of his educational background, (which includes: University of Illinois, Harvard Divinity School, and his Ph.D. from Indiana University.) It lists all his areas of teaching and research which includes Biblical Studies. It gives a list of his publications he has written, His honors/grants, his professional appointments, the courses he designed and offers, and a long list of articles he has written, plus his professional papers he has written. There is no way he could be in his position at Northern Arizona University unless he was an expert of Greek! And Coptic, Parthian, Middle Persian, Latin, French, German, and of course English.

    Professor BeDuhn in an email discussion once wrote me this personally: “He starts with an ad hominem argument against me as a person, just repeating phrasing that has been used over and over again on the internet without anyone checking whether the person who first wrote it knew what he was talking about. There is this fantasy out there that there are institutions that give Ph.D.s in “Biblical Languages” that are better than the level of language expertise in major university programs where these languages are an integral part of someone’s degree. This simply is not true. Your dialogue partner needs to do some fact checking on the nature of language study in institutions of higher learning — or, better, stop resorting to ad hominem argument and deal with the language data rather than the person presenting it.”

    As BeDuhn once wrote:

    “If John had wanted to say “The Word was God,” he could have written ho logos en ho theos. But he didn’t, If he wanted to say “The Word was a god,” he could have written ho logos ho theos, But he didn’t. Instead John took the anarthrous predicate noun and placed it before the verb,”

    And since you want to talk about Lexical/Dictionary definitions what do you think of these?

    Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Abingdon, 1974 printing,

    “430. [elohim]. el-o-heem’; plural of 433; gods in the ordinary sense; but spec. used (in the plur. thus, esp. with the art.) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative: – angels, … x (very) great, judges, x mighty.” – p. 12, “Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary.”

    Young’s Analytical Concordance of the Bible, Eerdmans, 1978 Reprint, “Hints and Helps to Bible Interpretation”:

    “65. GOD – is used of any one (professedly) MIGHTY, whether truly so or not, and is applied not only to the true God, but to false gods, magistrates, judges, angels, prophets, etc., e.g. – Exod. 7:1; 15:11; 21:6; 22:8, 9;…Ps. 8:5; 45:6; 82:1, 6; 97:7, 9; John 1:1; 10:33, 34, 35; 20:28.”

    W. E. Vine tells us:

    “The word [theos, ‘god’ or ‘God’] is used of Divinely appointed judges in Israel, as representing God in His authority, John 10:34” – p. 491, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.

    No, I will not comment on everything you said this time but this is a start. Please don’t think I am avoiding or ignoring anything you state.

    • humblesmith says:

      That’s nice. Rob Bowman did a lengthy discussion with BeDuhn that went to about 500 pages. If anyone wants to read that, and the good pile of other authors that disagree, they are commonly available. Bowman’s books are especially helpful.
      Here, in an attempt to be concise, I only discuss the scholars that have published grammars, lexicons, or translations that are used in accredited schools. Those are the gold standards that define the languages, without which no one can make any claim about Greek. Of those, they are in 100% disagreement with the Watchtower and BeDuhn.
      I have repeated this several times.
      As to Elohim, I’m working from memory, but I think I have answered that already somewhere on this blog. I would encourage you to search and read the posts. If it’s not there, stay tuned, I’ll get to it eventually. I’m in the midst of answering something else.

      • NickHawaii says:

        You are simply and obviously wrong. Sad to say, you apparently can’t see where/how your equivocation does not match my pointed address to this matter of qualification(s) as an issue. And how does Rob Bowman meet your criteria of gold standards when he has never wrote a lexicon, grammar book, or a translation used in school?? Drop the theology for a moment and look at the Greek.

        You state:

        “As such, we have a 100% agreement against the Watchtower from these language scholars. Every text by a publisher of Greek grammars disagree with the Watchtower. No Greek scholar supports the NWT’s view. Not Dana & Mantey’s A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (p.140, 149-151), not Robertson & Davis A New Short Grammar of the Greek Testament (p.279), not A. T. Robertson’s The Minister and His Greek New Testament (p.67), and not Wallace Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (p.266 ff.). These four Greek grammars specifically refute the NWT view, but more importantly represent a significant portion of modern language study. Again, if these are wrong, we can make no objective statement about the language, for we would have no basis from which to make the claim.”

        With regard to Dana and Mantey, I find it interesting that you leave out mention of what they said on page 148, that is, the portion which the NWT made reference to in their Appendix in support of an “a god” rendering at John 1:1c.

        It would appear that you are either getting your information from an unreliable source or that you don’t really understand why the translators of the NWT had used Dana & Mantey in the first place.

        Although many years later (almost 30 years) Mantey did eventually make a request of the Watchtower Society to stop using his and Dana’s work as a reference, his preference, non-the-less, did not make the earlier NWT use of that work any less in actual support of our “a god” rendering. It still is in their “A Manual Grammar of the Greek NT,” Item #3 pages 148-149. It was true then and still true today.

        Responding to your 8 Coptic points next…

  5. humblesmith says:

    I have previously posted Julius Mantey’s letter to the Watchtower. Search for his name and you will find it.

    • NickHawaii says:

      Here are the facts. Jehovah’s Witnesses never relied on or focused on Mantey’s work, but did mention him exactly three times over the decades. Watchtower publications have not mentioned him in more than 40 years. It amazes me this still is brought up.

      In 1974, Mantey wrote and publicized an “open letter” to Watchtower, expressing strong words about why he felt that his writings had been misapplied.

      Mantey’s charge that the Watchtower “misquoted” him is completely unfounded, because in order for the Watchtower to have “misquoted” Mantey, they would have had to have asserted that Mantey agreed with the New World Translation rendering.

      There’s a big difference between quoting an author according to what his words were intended to mean and quoting an author according to what meaning his words allow. Mantey’s parallel between John 1:1c and Anabasis 1:4:6 proves that “a god” is grammatically allowable, whether Mantey intended that understanding or not. Look at what it says in the “A Manual Grammar of the Greek NT,” (nothing has changed) and show where we have misquoted him?

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