Addressing errors in the Watch Tower publication “Should you believe in the Trinity”

In 1989 the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society published a pamphlet entitled “Should you believe in the Trinity” (link to pamphlet). That particular publication says there were 5 million copies published in English at that printing. I recently received a hard copy of this pamphlet from a fellow Christian that had an encounter with some JWs. He brought it to me because he had some questions about the claims that are made in the tract on page 7. His questions in particular were about the supposed citations from the Ante-Nicene church fathers.

This article is to address the egregious errors and atrocious scholarship that went into these citations. In fact the errors are so clear that the intention could have only been deception. I will address each of these supposed citations one at a time.

The first sections of quotes are attributed to Justin Martyr (100-165 AD).

Justin Martyr, who died about 165 C.E., called the prehuman Jesus a created angel who is “other than the God who made all things.” He said that Jesus was inferior to God and “never did anything except what the Creator . . . willed him to do and say.” 1

The tract is trying to make the point that Justin Martyr actually believed that Jesus was only a created Angel and that he was inferior to God. The attempt is obviously trying to convince the reader that the Watch Tower’s view that Jesus was Michael the Archangel was a common view among early orthodox Christians. Since the pamphlet does not actually give the exact source of the citation it is difficult to actually pin down where they are getting this from but the most likely candidate is Justin Martyr’s work entitled “Dialogue with Trypho the Jew” In chapter 56 of that work we see the following.

Then I replied, “I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures,[of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things–above whom there is no other God–wishes to announce to them.” And quoting once more the previous passage, I asked Trypho, “Do you think that God appeared to Abraham under the oak in Mature, as the Scripture asserts?” 2

If this indeed is the location of the supposed citation in this pamphlet a little work on context shows that Justin was attempting to demonstrate to Trypho the Jew that Jesus was pre-incarnately present in the Old Testament Scriptures as the Angel of the Lord. To make the claim that Justin was trying to demonstrate the Jesus was a mere created angel is to completely shred the context of Justin’s argument. Justin continues in chapter 58.

And I continued: “It is again written by Moses, my brethren, that He who is called God and appeared to the patriarchs is called both Angel and Lord, in order that from this you may understand Him to be minister to the Father of all things, as you have already admitted, and may remain firm, persuaded by additional arguments. The word of God, therefore,[recorded] by Moses, when referring to Jacob the grandson of Abraham, speaks thus: ‘And it came to pass, when the sheep conceived, that I saw them with my eyes in the dream: And, behold, the he-goats and the rams which leaped upon the sheep and she-goats were spotted with white, and speckled and sprinkled with a dun colour. And the Angel of God said to me in the dream, Jacob, Jacob. And I said, What is it, Lord? And He said, Lift up thine eyes, and see that the he-goats and rams leaping on the sheep and she-goats are spotted with white, speckled, and sprinkled with a dun colour. For I have seen what Laban doeth unto thee. I am the God who appeared to thee in Bethel, where thou anointedst a pillar and vowedst a vow unto Me. Now therefore arise, and get thee out of this land, and depart to the land of thy birth, and I shall be with thee. And again, in other words, speaking of the same Jacob, it thus says: ‘And having risen up that night, he took the two wives, and the two women-servants, and his eleven children, and passed over the ford Jabbok; and he took them and went over the brook, and sent over all his belongings. But Jacob was left behind alone, and an Angel wrestled with him until morning. And He saw that He is not prevailing against him, and He touched the broad part of his thigh; and the broad part of Jacob’s thigh grew stiff while he wrestled with Him. And He said, Let Me go, for the day breaketh. But he said, I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me. And He said to him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And He said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name; for thou hast prevailed with God, and with men shalt be powerful. And Jacob asked Him, and said, Tell me Thy name. But he said, Why dost thou ask after My name? And He blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of that place Peniel, for I saw God face to face, and my soul rejoiced.’ And again, in other terms, referring to the same Jacob, it says the following: ‘And Jacob came to Luz, in the land of Canaan, which is Bethel, he and all the people that were with him. And there he built an altar, and called the name of that place Bethel; for there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother Esau. And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and Jacob called the name of it The Oak of Sorrow. And God appeared again to Jacob in Luz, when he came out from Mesopotamia in Syria, and He blessed him. And God said to him, Thy name shall be no more called Jacob, but Israel shall he thy name.’ He is called God, and He is and shall be God.” And when all had agreed on these grounds, I continued: “Moreover, I consider it necessary to repeat to you the words which narrate how He who is both Angel and God and Lord, and who appeared as a man to Abraham, and who wrestled in human form with Jacob, was seen by him when he fled from his brother Esau. They are as follows: ‘And Jacob went out from the well of the oath, and went toward Charran. And he lighted on a spot, and slept there, for the sun was set; and he gathered of the stones of the place, and put them under his head. And he slept in that place; and he dreamed, and, behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, whose top reached to heaven; and the angels of God ascended and descended upon it. And the Lord stood above it, and He said, I am the Lord, the God of Abraham thy father, and of Isaac; be not afraid: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and shall be extended to the west, and south, and north, and east: and in thee, and in thy seed, shall all families of the earth be blessed. 3

The context of the citation from Justin Martyr, that is supposed to make the argument that he believed that Jesus was a mere created angel, absolutely refutes this assertion. Justin makes repeated arguments that this Angel was indeed God and Lord.

Quotes from Justin Martyr in his other works makes it very clear that Justin held an extremely high Christology and held no beliefs analogous to the modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses. Justin Martyr’s actual views of Christ are completely consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity

“For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water” 4

“The Father of the universe has a Son, who also being the first begotten Word of God, is even God. 5

“Christ is called both God and Lord of hosts. 6

The next Church father the pamphlet attempts to use to establish the assertion that the doctrine of the Trinity was a later fabrication in Church history is Irenaeus. Irenaeus lived from 115-190 AD. As a boy he was a student of Polycarp a disciple of the apostle John. He later became the Bishop of Lyons (in present day France). The quote from the pamphlet follows.

Irenaeus, who died about 200 C.E., said that the prehuman Jesus had a separate existence from God and was inferior to him. He showed that Jesus is not equal to the “One true and only God,” who is “supreme over all, and besides whom there is no other.” 7

This particular paragraph has two issues. The first problem is the statement Irenaeus said that the prehuman Jesus was inferior to God. They give no direct quotes or any bibliography where this supposed statement comes from. Irenaeus may well have said that Jesus in his incarnation was made lower than God because to be frank that is what the Bible itself teaches and is well within the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity (Phil 2:7-8, Heb 2:9). The eternal Son of God however has always been co-equal and co-eternal with the Father (John 1:1, Heb 1:8) outside of His incarnation.

The second problem is that the citations from Irenaeus that say “One true and only God,” who is “supreme over all, and besides whom there is no other.” is exactly what Trinitarians believe. The doctrine of the Trinity is that there is only one true God who is supreme over all and besides whom there is no other. This is just another demonstration of how Jehovah’s Witnesses do not understand what they are criticizing. In almost all their attacks against the doctrine of the Trinity there is this assumption of unitarianism. Unitarianism is the belief that being and person are the same thing and cannot be distinguished. Whenever the Bible or a Church Father say there is only one God the unitarian assumes that also means one person, this however is an unproven assumption.

Further quotes from Irenaeus of Lyons demonstrate that he clearly believed that Jesus was fully God and that there was only one God yet three divine persons.

“The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: . . . one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father ‘to gather all things in one,’ and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, ‘every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess; to him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all . . . ‘” 8

For I have shown from the Scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man. But that He had, beyond all others, in Himself that pre-eminent birth which is from the Most High Father, and also experienced that pre-eminent generation which is from the Virgin, the divine Scriptures do in both respects testify of Him: also, that He was a man without comeliness, and liable to suffering; that He sat upon the foal of an ass; that He received for drink, vinegar and gall; that He was despised among the people, and humbled Himself even to death and that He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God, coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men; all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him. 9

The next claim in the pamphlet is attributed to Clement of Alexandria.

“Clement of Alexandria, who died about 215 C.E., called God “the uncreated and imperishable and only true God.” He said that the Son “is next to the only omnipotent Father” but not equal to him.” 10

They once again quote a Church father as stating that there is only one true God but as demonstrated before this is the orthodox Trinitarian view and only a problem for those who assume unitarianism. They make the assertion that Clement said that the Son was next to the Father but “not equal to him”. Notice how they do not have quotes around “not equal to him” and they once again give no reference in the works of Clement of Alexandria for the supposed belief.

Let’s see what Clement of Alexandria actually said about Jesus.

Now, O you, my children, our Instructor is like His Father God, whose son He is, sinless, blameless, and with a soul devoid of passion; God in the form of man, stainless, the minister of His Father’s will, the Word who is God, who is in the Father, who is at the Father’s right hand, and with the form of God is God. He is to us a spotless image; to Him we are to try with all our might to assimilate our souls. He is wholly free from human passions; wherefore also He alone is judge, because He alone is sinless. As far, however, as we can, let us try to sin as little as possible. For nothing is so urgent in the first place as deliverance from passions and disorders, and then the checking of our liability to fall into sins that have become habitual. It is best, therefore, not to sin at all in any way, which we assert to be the prerogative of God alone; next to keep clear of voluntary transgressions, which is characteristic of the wise man; thirdly, not to fall into many involuntary offences, which is peculiar to those who have been excellently trained. Not to continue long in sins, let that be ranked last. But this also is salutary to those who are called back to repentance, to renew the contest. 11

The next Church father that is used to dispute the doctrine of the Trinity is particularly egregious to me as Tertullian was likely the one to even coin the term “Trinity” and bring it into our theological dictionary. To make the assertion that Tertullian did not believe the doctrine of the Trinity is absurd. Below is the quote from the tract.

Tertullian, who died about 230 C.E., taught the supremacy of God. He observed: “The Father is different from the Son (another), as he is greater; as he who begets is different from him who is begotten; he who sends, different from him who is sent.” He also said: “There was a time when the Son was not …. Before all things, God was alone.” 12

All Trinitarians believe that the Father is different than the Son. The assumption behind this is unitarianism again. The question is how are they different? Are they different ontologically or in person? Trinitarians believe that the Father and Son are the same being and hence the same ontologically but yet different in person or subsistence.

Tertullian who lived from 160-215 AD was an African apologist and theologian and he wrote much in defense of Christianity. Below are some quotes from his works which demonstrate what he actually believed about the Trinity.

“We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation . . . [which] brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind. They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”13

Chapter 3 — Sundry Popular Fears and Prejudices. The Doctrine of the Trinity in Unity Rescued from These Misapprehensions. The simple, indeed, (I will not call them unwise and unlearned,) who always constitute the majority of believers, are startled at the dispensation (of the Three in One), on the ground that their very rule of faith withdraws them from the world’s plurality of gods to the one only true God; not understanding that, although He is the one only God, He must yet be believed in with His own οἰκονομία (or administration). The numerical order and distribution of the Trinity they assume to be a division of the Unity; whereas the Unity which derives the Trinity out of its own self is so far from being destroyed, that it is actually supported by it. They are constantly throwing out against us that we are preachers of two gods and three gods, while they take to themselves pre-eminently the credit of being worshippers of the One God; just as if the Unity itself with irrational deductions did not produce heresy, and the Trinity rationally considered constitute the truth. We, say they, maintain the Monarchy (or, sole government of God). And so, as far as the sound goes, do even Latins (and ignorant ones too) pronounce the word in such a way that you would suppose their understanding of the μοναρχία (or Monarchy) was as complete as their pronunciation of the term. Well, then Latins take pains to pronounce the μοναρχία (or Monarchy), while Greeks actually refuse to understand the οἰκονομία, or Dispensation (of the Three in One). As for myself, however, if I have gleaned any knowledge of either language, I am sure that μοναρχία (or Monarchy) has no other meaning than single and individual rule; but for all that, this monarchy does not, because it is the government of one, preclude him whose government it is, either from having a son, or from having made himself actually a son to himself, or from ministering his own monarchy by whatever agents he will. Nay more, I contend that no dominion so belongs to one only, as his own, or is in such a sense singular, or is in such a sense a monarchy, as not also to be administered through other persons most closely connected with it, and whom it has itself provided as officials to itself. If, moreover, there be a son belonging to him whose monarchy it is, it does not forthwith become divided and cease to be a monarchy, if the son also be taken as a sharer in it; but it is as to its origin equally his, by whom it is communicated to the son; and being his, it is quite as much a monarchy (or sole empire), since it is held together by two who are so inseparable. Therefore, inasmuch as the Divine Monarchy also is administered by so many legions and hosts of angels, according as it is written, “Thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him;” and since it has not from this circumstance ceased to be the rule of one (so as no longer to be a monarchy), because it is administered by so many thousands of powers; how comes it to pass that God should be thought to suffer division and severance in the Son and in the Holy Ghost, who have the second and the third places assigned to them, and who are so closely joined with the Father in His substance, when He suffers no such (division and severance) in the multitude of so many angels? Do you really suppose that Those, who are naturally members of the Father’s own substance, pledges of His love, instruments of His might, nay, His power itself and the entire system of His monarchy, are the overthrow and destruction thereof? You are not right in so thinking. I prefer your exercising yourself on the meaning of the thing rather than on the sound of the word. Now you must understand the overthrow of a monarchy to be this, when another dominion, which has a framework and a state peculiar to itself (and is therefore a rival), is brought in over and above it: when, e.g., some other god is introduced in opposition to the Creator, as in the opinions of Marcion; or when many gods are introduced, according to your Valentinuses and your Prodicuses. Then it amounts to an overthrow of the Monarchy, since it involves the destruction of the Creator. 14

The next section speaks of Hippolytus of Rome who lived from 170 – 235 AD. This paragraph again makes no actual argument against the doctrine of the Trinity as it is an argument against a straw man constructed by unitarian assumptions. As Trinitarians we believe there is only one God, maker of all things, there is nothing equal to God, and God alone willed and called all things into existence. The citation below does not even make a dent into the actual doctrine of the Trinity.

Hippolytus, who died about 235 C.E., said that God is “the one God, the first and the only One, the Maker and Lord of all,” who “had nothing co-eval [of equal age] with him … But he was One, alone by himself; who, willing it, called into being what had no being before,” such as the created prehuman Jesus. 15

Below are some additional quotes from the works of Hippolytus of Rome to make even more clear what he actually believed about the persons and being of God.

“A man, therefore, even though he will it not, is compelled to acknowledge God the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus the Son of God, who being God, became man, to whom also the Father made all things subject, Himself excepted, and the Holy Spirit; and that these, therefore, are three.”16

Now Christ prayed all this economically as man; being, however, true God. But, as I have already said, it was the “form of the servant” that spake and suffered these things. Wherefore He added, “My soul looked for reproach and trouble,” that is, I suffered of my own will, (and) not by any compulsion. Yet “I waited for one to mourn with me, and there was none,” for all my disciples forsook me and fled; and for a “comforter, and I found none.”17

The next Church father to be misrepresented is Origen, the Alexandrian theologian, who lived from 185 – 254 AD. The booklet quotes Origen as having said the following.

Origen, who died about 250 C.E., said that “the Father and Son are two substances … two things as to their essence,” and that “compared with the Father, [the Son] is a very small light.”18

I am unable to find exactly where these particular citations are supposed to have come from. Origen did have some views that are and should be deemed as heretical however his view of the Godhead was not that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Origen’s view of the Trinity did cause some later problems during the Council of Nicea in 325 AD as there were some Origenists that did not want to adopt the language of same substance (homousios) and instead opted for the language of similar substance (homoiusios) for the being and nature of the divine persons of the Godhead.

Below are some quotes from Origen to put into context what he actually believed about the being and nature of God and the divine persons.

If anyone would say that the Word of God or the Wisdom of God had a beginning, let him beware lest he direct his impiety rather against the unbegotten Father, since he denies that he was always Father, and that he has always begotten the Word, and that he always had wisdom in all previous times or ages or whatever can be imagined in priority . . . There can be no more ancient title of almighty God than that of Father, and it is through the Son that he is Father”19

“For if [the Holy Spirit were not eternally as He is, and had received knowledge at some time and then became the Holy Spirit] this were the case, the Holy Spirit would never be reckoned in the unity of the Trinity, i.e., along with the unchangeable Father and His Son, unless He had always been the Holy Spirit.” 20

“Moreover, nothing in the Trinity can be called greater or less, since the fountain of divinity alone contains all things by His word and reason, and by the Spirit of His mouth sanctifies all things which are worthy of sanctification . . . ” 21

Below I have some additional quotes from other Ante-Nicene fathers that demonstrate a very early high Christology and beliefs synonymous to the present day orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

Polycarp (70-155/160 AD). Bishop of Smyrna. Disciple of John the Apostle.

“O Lord God almighty . . . I bless you and glorify you through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with Him and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever” 22

Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High-priest Himself the [Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth, and in all gentleness and in all avoidance of wrath and in forbearance and long suffering and in patient endurance and in purity 23

Ignatius of Antioch (died 98/117 AD). Bishop of Antioch. He wrote much in defense of Christianity.

“In Christ Jesus our Lord, by whom and with whom be glory and power to the Father with the Holy Spirit for ever” 24

“There is one only physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man, true Life in death, Son of Mary and Son of God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 25


  1. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, “Should you believe in the Trinity”, 1989, pg.. 7
  2. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter 56
  3. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter 58
  4. Justin Martyr, First Apology, chapter 61
  5. Justin Martyr, First Apology, chapter 63
  6. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter 36
  7. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, “Should you believe in the Trinity”, 1989, pg.. 7
  8. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 10
  9. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 19
  10. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, “Should you believe in the Trinity”, 1989, pg.. 7
  11. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 2
  12. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, “Should you believe in the Trinity”, 1989, pg.. 7
  13. Tertullian, Against Praxeas, Chapter 2
  14. Tertullian, Against Praxeas, Chapter 3
  15. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, “Should you believe in the Trinity”, 1989, pg.. 7
  16. Hippolytus of Rome, Against Noetus, 8
  17. Hippolytus of Rome, Expository treatise against the Jews
  18. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, “Should you believe in the Trinity”, 1989, pg.. 7
  19. Origen, De principiis (On First Principles). 1.2. pg.. 11.132
  20. Origen, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975 rpt., Vol. 4, p. 253, De principiis (On First Principles), 1.111.4
  21. Origen, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, p. 255, De principiis (On First Principles)., I. iii. 7
  22. Polycarp, n. 14, ed. Funk; pg. 5.1040
  23. Polycarp, J.B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of Polycarp to the Church at Philippi, 12:2
  24. Ignatius of Antioch, n. 7; pg. 5.988
  25. Ignatius of Antioch, Lightfoot & Harmer, 1891 translation, Letter to the Ephesians, 7:2

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