The Status of Jesus as the Key to the Debate Over the Doctrine of the Trinity

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This is a second article in my series on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Click here to view an introductory article to this series.

As a preliminary note on the terminology that we will be using in this article, the following things need to be kept in mind.

– The name Jehovah is based on the name of God that is given in certain Old Testament passages (such as Exodus 3:13-14) and literally reads YHWH. As the written form of the name lacks vowels, it is unclear how it should be pronounced. One commonly used form of the name is Yahweh. But the issue of the exact pronunciation of this name is probably not among the important issues in the Christian – JW dialogue (even if the JWs sometimes try to make it an important issue). Therefore, we will retain the form of the name that is familiar to the JWs in our discussion below.

– Following the standard Trinitarian terminology, we refer to Jesus as the Son. However, it is technically incorrect to refer to the Son in his pre-incarnate status as Jesus, since Jesus is the name of the human person who was born of a virgin when the Son became incarnate.

– While the version of the doctrine of the Trinity that is presented below is “rudimentary” in the sense that it does not explicitly affirm everything that is confessed in the Christian creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople, this should not be taken as a denial of importance those creeds. But for our purposes, the following basic affirmations are a sufficient “working definition” by which we may contrast the Christian Trinitarian perspective with the JWs’ view.

In its rudimentary form, the doctrine of the Trinity consists of the following affirmations:

1. There is only one Jehovah.
2. The Father is Jehovah.
3. The Son is Jehovah.
4. The Holy Spirit is Jehovah.
5. The Father is not the Son.
6. The Father is not the Holy Spirit.
7. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
8. The Father is a person.
9. The Son is a person.
10. The Holy Spirit is a person.

Of these affirmations, some are agreed with by Christians and JWs alike (1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9). With regard to others (4 and 6), it could be said that there exists a partial agreement, since the JWs claim that the Holy Spirit is in some sense the active (but impersonal) power of Jehovah, which would mean that the Holy Spirit is in some sense representing “Jehovah in action”. But a few of these affirmations (numbers 3 and 10), are such that there exists a profound disagreement concerning their truth. It thus makes sense to focus the discussion mainly on these points. But arguably, the main focus can be narrowed down even further. The main motivation for the JWs to deny the personality of the Holy Spirit seems to be their affirmation of Unitarian view of God, which is the view that God (Jehovah) is only one person. If one can show that Jesus is Jehovah, the Unitarian assumption has been refuted, and this can provide grounds for re-evaluating the question of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. I believe that when this question is approached from this particular angle, it becomes clear that the Holy Spirit is a person, and is part of the identity of Jehovah just as much as the Father and the Son are.

It should be clarified that when we say, for example, that “the Son is Jehovah”, we do not imply that the Son is all that Jehovah is. Rather, we mean that the Son is a fully divine person, and together with the persons of the Father and the Holy Spirit, he constitutes the godhead of the Triune God. To that Triune God we refer by his name Jehovah. This idea may initially seem somewhat puzzling, but when it is understood correctly, it is not contradictory in any way, and arguably it is the one coherent way to take the entirety of the relevant New Testament material seriously. We will return to the issue of the definition and the coherence of the doctrine of the Trinity in a later article, but for now, we should keep in mind that this is the basic idea that the Christian teaching concerning God’s nature affirms. In the next article, we will begin to discuss the Biblical evidence for Jesus’ full divinity. As will see, the Bible teaches that Jesus is Jehovah.

Next article in the series:
The Gospel of John Teaches the Full Divinity of Jesus

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