The Trinity on Trial An in-depth examination of a doctrine

Robert M. Bowman Jr.
Why You Should Believe in the Trinity


A Refutation

The book "Why you should believe in the Trinity: An Answer to Jehovah's Witnesses" was written by Robert M. Bowman Jr. as a response to the Watchtower publication "Should you believe in the Trinity." While the purpose of this site is not to promote Watchtower doctrine, Bowman's book reveals how Trinitarian apologists go about misleading their readers and resort to all kinds of errors. Hence, Mr. Bowman's claims need to be refuted.

Quite often, Trinitarians approach Watchtower beliefs as if JW's are blundering numbskulls. This is hardly the case. In his Introduction, Bowman makes the following statement:

"If the arguments of the JW booklet are sound, the doctrine of the Trinity should be rejected by all Christians. However, if these arguments are not sound, the possibility ought to be considered that the Trinity is a biblical and Christian doctrine after all." (p.7).

Notice how Bowman suggestively declares the Trinity must be right if the JW arguments are wrong. This is a complete farce. Two wrongs will not make a right. But more importantly, he admits that if their arguments are sound, the doctrine of the Trinity should then be rejected. Let us now examine the soundness of Bowman's arguments versus the soundness of the JW arguments in this book.

Fallacy of Equivocation: Shifting the definition of words mid-argument.

On page 14, Bowman discusses God referring to himself as "I" and "you" in the singular. Indeed, God is referred to as "I" and "Me" and "You" and "He" and "Him" in singular terms. Bowman responds to this problem by saying, "This is not embarassment to the trinitarian belief, but it fits it perfectly, since trinitarians believe that the three "persons" are one divine being." (emphasis mine).

But we must take careful note that Bowman does not define the word "being" in his declaration. In Trinitarian theology, the word "being" is a synonym for the word "substance" or "divine nature" or "ousia." Now knowing this fact, ask yourself if Bowman's argument is sound. He is arguing that God's referring to himself in singular personal terms fits his doctrine perfectly because God is one substance, because God is one divine nature, because God is one ousia. Just how, we ask, does being one substance justify God being called "I" and "Me" and "He" and "Him." It doesn't. Bowman is not being straight forward with the facts here.

From Merrian-Webster's dictionary:

1 a: the quality or state of having existence b (1): something conceivable as existing (2): something that actually exists (3): the totality of existing things c: conscious existence : life
2: the qualities that constitute an existent thing : essence; especially : personality
3: a living thing; especially : person

Notice the difference in definitions here. Bowman is trying to pull a fast one here by playing a game of word equivocation. The word "being" in his doctrine is similar to the dictionary definition in number 2 above. But when he responds to this problem he uses definition number 3. While the Trinitarian word "being" means a divine "substance, the English word "being" can mean "individual" or "person." So what Bowman is doing here is suggestively changing the definition of the word "being" so that he can use this English synonym for the word "person" and make it "sound" like God can be called "I" because He is one being in the sense of one person without actually having to come right out and say God is one person. In other words, if I said, "Adam goes by the singular pronouns 'I' and 'Me' because he is one being," ask yourself what I am saying. I am saying these terms can be used of Adam because he is one individual, one person. And that is just how Bowman wants it to sound in order to try and justify his doctrine. And that is also precisely why he does not define the word "being" in his declaration. He is suggestively using a definition of the word that his doctrine is not using (substance) but in a way that implies one individual or person. He has resorted to the fallacy of equivocation because he has nowhere else to go. His argument is not sound and the JW argument stands firm.

This fact is made quite plain when Bowman inadvertently says on page 50, "biblical monotheism does not simply mean that the being of the Almighty God is one being."

"This is not embarassment to the trinitarian belief, but it fits it perfectly, since trinitarians believe that the three "persons" are one divine being."

Bowman is not unaware of his problems. On page 50, Bowman later says, "Indeed, if "person" is defined to mean "individual personal being," then trinitarians will argue that in that sense "God is one person." So we are to understand that God is not one person but God is indeed one personal being. What exactly is that supposed to mean? He is plainly playing word games to avoid the implications of his problem where the one and only God is a singular "I." And so in the end, Bowman has a God who is three who's in one who or one who subsisting as three who's and he is on the threshhold of Modalism. Three who's in one who would be three persons in one person but that word "person" is not a word Bowman wants to use. Bowman just doesn't want to come out and say it because he knows that would contradict his doctrine.

Bowman inadvertently admits Trinitarians cannot comprehend their own reasoning

On page 16 he says the Trinity "cannot be fully fathomed, or comprehended, by the finite human mind." But here is Bowman's problem. This doctrine is not articulated in the Bible. Trinitarians must arrive at this doctrine through reasoning out interpretations of Scripture. So in the end, Bowman admits that Trinitarians cannot comprehend their concluding doctrine which they themselves arrived at by their own reasoning process. Apparently, Bowman does not realize the utter absurdity of reasoning out something you cannot fully comprehend.

"Still, these mysteries tend to have a 'mysterious' element in them that cannot be completely understood by men." (p. 16).

Misrepresenting the Church Fathers

On page 28, Bowman charges the JW's for misprepresenting the church fathers. But does he himself misrepresent the church fathers? Let us have a close look and see.

Justin Martyr

On page 28, Bowman notes that Christians theologians charge Justin Martyr for "mixing Christian beliefs with pagan philosophy." But on page 29, Bowman claims that Justin Martyr believed in "a rudimentry form of the Trinity." Firstly, what does he mean exactly by a "rudimentary form?" Is Bowman inadvertently admitting the doctrine of the Trinity was a development and not a teaching handed down by the apostles?

Bowman conveniently forgets to mention a few thigns. First, that Justin Martyr called the Father "the most true God" (Apology, 6) and called Jesus "another god" (Trypho, 56) and the son of "the most true God Himself" (Apology, 13) who is "subject to "the Maker of all things" (Trypho, 56). Justin also refers to Jesus as "the Holy Spirit" (Apology, 33 and Trypho, 61) where Bowman insists that Trinitarianism must affirm that Jesus is NOT the Spirit. It seems Bowman must have been quite aware of these problems as he goes on to say Justin's philisophical explanations were "somewhat confused" (i.e. they don't agree with the doctrine of the Trinity.). Just who is misrepresenting the church fathers?

Irenaeus

On page 29, Bowman goes on to actually claim that Irenaeus "defended a view of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that was implicitly trinitarian." What Bowman does not tell you is that Irenaeus, in his work Against Heresies, was refuting heresies by continuously referring to the teaching handed down by the Apostles and his major line of argumentation concerns the identity of the one God over and against the Gnostic speculations of various higher gods. Not once does he refer to a three person God. And what is even more revealing, Irenaeus not only repeatedly identifed the one God as the Father of Jesus Christ, he profusely declared that only the Father was the one God of the Christians.

The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth (I, 10).

The rule of truth which we hold, is, that there is one God Almighty... He is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, above whom there is no other God...He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we shall prove (I,22).

It is proper, then, that I should begin with the first and most important head, that is, God the Creator, who made the heaven and the earth, and all things that are therein (whom these men blasphemously style the fruit of a defect), and to demonstrate that there is nothing either above Him or after Him; nor that, influenced by any one, but of His own free will, He created all things, since He is the only God, the only Lord, the only Creator, the only Father, ALONE containing all things, and Himself commanding all things into existence. (II,1).

Now, that this God IS the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul the apostle also has declared, "There is One God, the Father, who is above all, and through all, and in all" [Eph 4:6]. (Book II, 2).

For consider, all you who invent such opinions, since the Father Himself is ALONE called God, who has a real existence, but whom you style the Demiurge; since, moreover, the Scriptures acknowledge Him ALONE as God. (II,28).

But there is one only God, the Creator.... He is Father, He is God, He the Founder, He the Maker, He the Creator.... He is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.... He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (II, 30).

'Wherefore I do also call upon You, LORD God of Abraham, and God of Isaac, and God of Jacob and Israel, who IS the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of Your mercy, have favored us, that we should know You, who has made heaven and earth, who rules over all, who is the and the , above whom there is no other God, do grant, by our Lord Jesus Christ, the governing power of the Holy Spirit, to every reader of this book to know You, that You ALONE are God' (III,6)

He, the Father, is the Only God and Lord, who ALONE is "God" and ruler of all. It is incumbent on us to follow, if we are their disciples indeed, their witness to this effect. (III,9).

Since, therefore, this is sure and established, that no other God or Lord was announced by the Spirit, except Him who, as God, rules over all, together with His Word... Now to whom is it not clear, that if the Lord had known many fathers and gods, he would not have taught His disciples to know One God, and to call Him Alone Father.... The apostles, too, according to these men's showing, are proved to be transgressors of the commandment, since they confess the Creator as God, and Lord, and Father, as I have shown, if He is not ALONE God and Father, Jesus, therefore, will be to them the author and teacher of such transgression, inasmuch as He commanded that One Being should be called Father, thus imposing upon them the necessity of confessing the Creator as their Father, as has been pointed out. (Book IV, 1).

And therefore One God, the Father is declared, who is above all, and through all, and in all. The Father is indeed above all, and He is the Head of Christ. But the Word is through all things, and is himself the head of the church, and the Spirit is in us all, and he is the living water, that the Lord grants to those who rightly believe in him, and love him, and who know that "there is one Father, who is above all, and through all, and in us all." (Book V, 18).

Therefore then does the Lord plainly show that it was the true Lord and the One God who had been set forth by the Law for Him whom the law proclaimed as "God", the same did Christ point out as the Father, whom also it compels the disciples of Christ, ALONE to serve. (Book V, 22).

Does it sound like Irenaeus believed what Bowman believes? Not even close. Not only does Irenaeus identify his one God as the Father of Jesus Christ, he even repeatedly said that ONLY the Father is the one true God. Even further, the statements above completely deny that Irenaeus believed in a three person God. Mr. Bowman is dishonestly misprepresenting Irenaeus. Irenaeus was most definitely not a Trinitarian.

Trinitarian apologists often try and claim Irenaeus was Trinitarian and then trot out some verses where Irenaeus refers to Jesus as "God." But what they do not tell you is that Irenaeus also referred to Christians as "God" and "gods." (III,6; IV,Preface). This they conveniently forget to tell you. Note: It does seem to this writer that Irenaeus would not have written in English that Christians are "God" but that they are god (divine in a qualitative sense) because they are children of God sharing in God's nature, the Holy Spirit.

Tertullian

And likewise Bowman insists that Tertullian was also a Trinitarian (p.30). But again Bowman is not being honest with the facts. In response to the JW claim that Tertullian wrote there was a time when the Son was not, Bowman claims this was not even said by Tertullian but by a modern scholar. Bowman's claim is completely misleading. In his work Against Hermogenes, Tertullian says "There was, however, a time when neither sin existed with Him, nor the Son" (III). Tertullians argument is that God could not have been a Father until there was the existence of a Son. In Trinitarianism, there is no such thing as non-existence of the Son or a time when the Son did not exist.

Bowman also conveniently forgets to mention that Tertullian said:

For we shall be even gods, if we, shall deserve to be among those of whom He declared, "I have said, Ye are gods," and, "God standeth in the congregation of the gods." But this comes of His own grace, not from any property in us, because it is He alone who can make gods. (Hermogenes, V).

On page 30, Bowman actually claims this quote by Tertuallian is classic Trintarianism:

Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son, inasmuch as He who begets is one, and he who is begotten is another. He, too, who sends is one, and he who is sent is another. (Against Praxeas, 9).

Now let us read the entire statement by Tertullian:

For the Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, as he himself confesses, "My Father is greater than I." In the Psalm his inferiority is described as being "a little lower than the angels." Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son, inasmuch as He who begets is one, and he who is begotten is another. He, too, who sends is one, and he who is sent is another, and He, again, who makes is one, and he through whom the thing is made is another. (Against Praxeas, 9).

Yes, Tertullian was referring to the substance of God and indicating the Son was inferior to the Father. This is not even close to "classic Trinitarianism." Mr. Bowman is clearly misprepresenting the facts. I would like to hear Mr. Bowman make some of the claims that Tertullian and Irenaeus and Justin Martyr made and then have him tell us all he is still a Trinitarian. Mr. Bowman needs to take the log out of his own eye.

The Nicean Creed

Then on page 38, Bowman insists that the Nicean creed was "trinitarian in structure" because he sees the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, mentioned in the creed. In other words, he counts, "one, two, three" and comes up with a Holy Trinity. What Bowman completely fails to see is that the creed begins by identifying God, "We believe in one God - the Father." The one God is identified in the Nicean Creed as the Father, not a three person being. The only way out of this problem is to claim the creed should be read as "we believe in one God the Father" where the people are not identifying the one God as the Father but confessing they believe in "one God the Father." Unfortunately, this would result in the ridiculous implication they were confessing that they believed in one God the Father as opposed to two God the Fathers. Again Bowman is not being honest with the facts.

Constantine

On page 38, Bowman responds to the JW charge that Constantine's Christian faith was not "sincere." He responds by saying, "This is false" and cites The New Encyclopedia Britannica as his support. Apparently, Bowman is completely ignorant of the facts. Constantine remained the Pontificus Maximus (Grand Pontiff) of all the pagan religions in his empire. He refused to be baptized until the moment of his death and had a priest by his side at all times for that occassion. Indeed, his coins beared the high Mithraic god "the Invincible Sun."

So Bowman accuses the JW's for misrepresenting the church fathers and then he turns around and does the very same thing.

Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (Romans 2:1-3).

Bowman seeks to nullify the Bible when it does not suit him

Hebrews 2:7, "you have made him a little lower than the angels," quotes the Greek Septuagint version of Psalm 8:5. The quotation translates the Hebrew word elohim as "angels." However, the Hebrew word elohim is usually translated as God or gods in the Scriptures. Hence, the JW's are arguing that the Bible identifies angels as gods.

On page 52-53, Bowman argues that the Septuagint translation is faulty and the verse should not be translated as "a little lower than the angels" but as "a little lower than God." However, this would be implying the New Testament book of Hebrews is incorrect and the writer of Hebrews was not inspired at all since he quotes the Septuagint which Bowman says is incorrect. Apparently, Bowman is more inspired than the writer of Hebrews and is able to identify places where the Bible is not inspired.

The Hebrew writers' entire argument in chapter one and two is that Jesus was once made lower than the angels but now is exalted above all the angels having inherited a better name than them. So in the end, seeking to nullify the "angel" translation, Bowman seeks to nullify the Scriptures for the sake of his tradition.

But knowing this problem, he goes on to say that perhaps that Hebrews 2:7 does indeed implicitly understand Psalm 8:5 as indentifying the angels as "gods." And then he seeks to claim that this would mean that the angels were wrongly worshiped as gods. What is Bowman thinking? The question at hand is not about worshiping angels but that Jesus was made lower than the angels and that particular word is translating the Hebrew word elohim, "gods." It is not a worship issue but a translation issue. Bowman simply cannot escape the fact that both Jewish scribes were identifying the elohim, "gods" of Psalm 8:5, as angels, and the writer of Hebrews confirms it. Either that, or Bowman must continue to insist elohim should be translated as "God" and not "gods" and then admit the ancient Jews and the writer of Hebrews understood these angels are God. Plainly, Bowman is trying to contrive his way out of the facts.

On page 62, Bowman claims that the Old Testament never calls God the Father 'Jehovah" (Yahweh). This statement is extremely misleading. At Deuteronomy 32:9, Yahweh says "there is no God besides me" and if we look back to see who is speaking we find the speaker says, "Is he not your Father who bought you?" Yahweh is identified as the Father also at Psalm 89:26, Isaiah 64:8, and Malachi 2:10 as well as other Old Testament verses. Does Bowman wish to claim that his Triune God is "the Father" in question?

On pages 63-64, Bowman tries to argue that "firstborn of all creation" (Col 1:15) simply means "heir of all creation." What he is doing here is playing a little mind game. Since firstborn is an heir of the estate, he then claims that is what the word firstborn means by definition. It is a ridiculous contrivance. It does not mean the heir of an estate. The child in view is heir of the estate because he is the first one born. Moreover, Bowman completely misses the obvious truth found in Colossians 1:18 where Paul refers to Jesus as the "firstborn out of the dead." At Colossians 1:15, we see clearly that Paul is speaking in the present tense. He is referring to the risen Christ, the first born of all creation, the first one born out of the dead.

On pages 65-66, Bowman spends a lot of effort trying to justify defining the Greek word arche as "ruler" rather than "beginning" at Revelation 3:14 because the Watchtower uses this verse to claim Jesus was created. Plainly, Bowman does not seem to comprehend what the word arche means. In the ancient times, the head of the family was a ruler. He was the beginning and top of the family. He was the arche of that family. The word does not simply mean "ruler." It means "beginning" and if someone is the beginning of a group of people he is thereby a ruler because he is the progenitor and origin of the people, the beginning. John calls Jesus the arche (beginning) of the creation of God not because he is the first thing created (JW's) but because, being the Word of God become flesh and the Word by which God created all things, Jesus is the PLACE where creation began. Apaprently, this simple fact was beyond Bowman's intellectual reach.

Bowman is way out to lunch on his interpretation of this passage. Because he is again obsessing over Trinitarian doctrine, he fails to see the obvious. John wrote these words. John is the one who loves to remind us that Jesus is the Word of God become flesh. And he also does so in Revelation (19:13). When John says that Jesus is the "beginning of the creation of God," he does not mean that Jesus is the ruler of God's creation and he doesn't mean that Jesus is the first thing created. He is referring to Jesus as God's Word and God's Word is the PLACE where creation began. The Word was not part of creation but was the beginning place of creation, ground zero. In other words, this verse does nothing to suggest Jesus is created. And John isn't emphasizing that Jesus is the "ruler" of creation either. He is emphasing Jesus is the Alpha point of creation, God's Word.

On pages 67-68, Bowman tries to claim that Jesus himself is the Creator. Bowman also points out that JW's respond by showing all verses pertaining to Jesus and creation say that creation was created "through" Jesus Christ. And Bowman responds by showing that creation was also created "through " God. So Bowman concludes the JW's are in error by declaring, "This means 'through' does not imply a lessor or secondary role in creation.' What?!?! That is not even what the JW's are arguing.

Bowman didn't prove anything. He merely showed that what was true of Jesus was also true of God. The POINT made by JW's is there is no verse showing that Jesus created. All verses in question show that God created through Jesus. And they are right. God created all things through His Word and that Word became the flesh we know as Jesus. The Greek word dia...

.... refutation to be continued....

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