Philosophy Magazine

Responding to Jehovah’s Witness Anti-Trinitarian Theology

By Stuart_gray @stuartg__uk
Responding to Jehovah’s Witness Anti-Trinitarian Theology

by Stuart Gray

Introducing the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW)

Former evangelical Charles Taze Russell founded the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in 1880, and his successor Joseph Rutherford later adopted the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” for its members. Robert Bowman opines Russell’s anti-Trinitarian ideas originated from his Adventist influences in the 1870s.[1]

JW Anti-Trinitarianism

In Should You Believe in the Trinity, JWs describe the Trinity doctrine as denoting one God in three persons, each eternally existing, each equally almighty. They claim this is contrary to reason; three persons cannot represent one God.[2] Further, were one to read the Bible without preconceived trinitarian notions, one would not locate trinitarian doctrine in it.[3]

Biblical Examples of Trinitarian Doctrine

The Bible is God’s inspired revelation. Despite JW claims, trinitarian doctrine is threaded throughout scripture. William G. T. Shedd identifies two ways it presents the Trinity. First, texts exist where all three members of the Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit, are mentioned directly. Second, some texts teach the deity of individual Godhead members.[4]

An example of type one is Jesus’ baptism. As Jesus emerged from the water, Matthew reports the Spirit descended like a dove and a voice identified Jesus as God’s dearly loved Son.[5] This implies the one speaking is the Father. Second, Jesus commission of his disciples has a trinitarian form, commanding the baptism of Christian converts in the individual names of the Father, Son, and Spirit.[6] Third, the Apostle Paul commonly sent trinitarian greetings to the church. To the Corinthians, he blessed them with the grace of Jesus, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.[7]

We find instances of Shedd’s second type of trinitarian text, the deity of individual Godhead members, in the Old Testament. First, Shedd observes a trinitarian three-ness evident in the early priestly blessing the Lord gives to Moses; blessing, grace, and peace.[8] Second, Isaiah declares that God the Father is the only God,[9] yet also states that a Son is given to us called Mighty God and Everlasting Father.[10] While Genesis reports the Spirit of God hovered over the deep,[11] Shedd observes the Gospels assume the first century Jewish audience understood God’s Spirit to be a person from Hebrew scripture.[12] In Matthew, John the Baptist tells the Jewish Pharisees one is coming to baptise in the Holy Spirit, without needing to identify that Spirit.[13]

JW Rebuttals

JWs say the New Testament (NT) views Jesus as a creature, not a divine being. Because Jesus is not God, the Trinity is necessarily false.[14] I will explore three JW arguments opposing Jesus’ divinity. 

First, Jesus was created in heaven prior to visiting earth,[15] in Colossians 1:15 he is “first-born of all creation,”[16]and the one who Revelation 3:14 identifies as the beginning of God’s creation.[17] Michael Licona poses two challenges to JW interpretation. First, the Greek for “first-born” is “prototokos.” It is used in the Greek Septuagint in two ways. It denotes a chronological relationship, identifying Canaan’s oldest son,[18] and it also identifies a person’s position. When David is described as the first-born, mightiest king,[19] this cannot denote a chronological position as Saul was Israel’s first king.[20] Rather, “prototokos” is a title designating David’s position.[21] Similarly, “prototokos” in Colossians 1:15 can also be interpreted positionally. Verse 16 identifies this interpretation as the correct one. Rather than stating God made everything after he created Jesus, Paul says he made things through Jesus, implying his divinity.[22] Licona’s second challenge relates to Revelation 3:14. The Greek for “beginning” is “arche.” This word is either expressed passively or actively. If passive, the subject is being created, otherwise the subject is doing the creating. Revelation can read either way. Yet Licona urges interpretation of the verse alongside other instances of “arche.” For example, Colossians 1:18 describes him as the “beginning, supreme over all,” and Colossians 1:15-16 says he was the one who began everything. Consequently, Revelation 3:14 should be interpreted similarly; Jesus as creator, not creature. The word “arche” also denotes political rule, and this is appropriate for Jesus.[23]

The second JW argument notes Jesus is described as the only-begotten Son of God.[24] The writer to the Hebrews uses the same Greek word, “monogenes,” when describing the relationship between Abraham and his son Isaac.[25]Usually, begetting relates to procreation. JWs claim the relationship between Father and Son is therefore similar to the relationship between Abraham and Isaac. Yet while “monogenes” can refer to a single, naturally born son,[26] Licona identifies another meaning. Abraham did not only have one son, he also had a second son named Ishmael. Hebrews therefore cannot correctly identify Isaac as Abraham’s only naturally born son. So, “monogenes” must mean something else in Hebrews, and also in John 1:18, and 3:16. It means special and exalted. Jesus is the exalted Son of God, like Isaac is the exalted son of Abraham.[27]

Third, JWs deny that people ascribed deity to Jesus in the first century.[28] He was the Son of God, not God. Yet this misunderstands the meaning of Jesus’ title and is at odds with the text. For example, monotheistic Jews knew worship was due to God alone.[29] Yet the disciples worshipped Christ,[30] and the author of Hebrews states the angels also worship him.[31] Further, Jesus himself took authority over the sabbath that God instituted,[32] and he claimed divine authority to forgive sin.[33] Further, the Jewish Sanhedrin demonstrated their understanding of the divine office of Messiah. Prior to his crucifixion, when Jesus agreed he was the Messiah, the high priest accused him of blasphemy.[34]First century Jews clearly did understand Jesus’ claim to deity.


The JW claim that scripture fails to teach trinitarian doctrine is unsustainable. Their rejection of the Trinity may stem in part from confusion; they miss the distinction between essence and person. Shedd notes the divine essence subsists paternally in the first, filially in the second, and is spirated in the third person, simultaneously and eternally.[35]While there are three persons, there is only one divine essence, and they are each the whole of it.

[1] Robert M Bowman, Jr., Jehovah’s Witnesses, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 12.

[2] “How Is the Trinity Explained,” JW.ORG, accessed September 23rd, 2023,

[3] “What Does the Bible Say About God and Jesus?,” JW.ORG, accessed September 23rd, 2023,

[4] William G. T. Shedd, edited by Alan W. Gomes, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed., (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2003), 224.

[5] Matthew 3:16 – 17, NLT.

[6] Matthew 28:19, NLT

[7] 2 Corinthians 13:14, NLT

[8] Numbers 6:24-26, NLT

[9] Isaiah 43:10, NLT

[10] Isaiah 9:6, NLT

[11] Genesis 1:2-3, NLT

[12] Shedd, 229.

[13] Matthew 3:7-11, NIV.

[14] “What does the Bible Say?,” JW.ORG.

[15] John 3:13, NLT.

[16] Colossians 1:15, NLT.

[17] Revelation 3:14, NLT.

[18] Genesis 10:15, NLT.

[19] Psalm 89:3, 27, NLT.

[20] 1 Samuel 8.

[21] Michael Licona, Behold I Stand at the Door and Knock What to say to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses when they knock on your door, (Alpharetta: TruthQuest Publishers, 1998), 34.

[22] Colossians 1:16, NLT.

[23] Licona, 31 – 32, summarised.

[24] John 1:14, NLT.

[25] Hebrews 11:17, KJV.

[26] Luke 7:12, NIV.

[27] Licona, 33.

[28] “What Does the Bible Say?,” JW.ORG.

[29] Deuteronomy 6:13, NLT.

[30] Matthew 28:17, NLT

[31] Hebrews 1:6, NLT.

[32] Matthew 12:1-8, NLT.

[33] Luke 7:48, NLT

[34] Matthew 26:65, NLT

[35] Shedd, 235.

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