Posts Tagged ‘Modalism’

Are the JWs Really the Re-establishment of 1st Century Christianity?

The JWs taught me that their organization is the re-establishment of authentic 1st Century Christianity without the “pagan” influences found in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Churches.  So, I reasoned that if the JWs are correct, then I should be able to find their doctrines in the writings of those Christians who were alive when the Apostles were still alive.  What I found was quite shocking to me.

I started with the writings of St. Ignatius who was the Bishop of Antioch.  He was taken to Rome where he was martyred for the faith.  During his trip to Rome, he wrote a series of letters to the Christian communities along the way.  These letters are believed to have been written as early as 98 A.D. which means that St. Ignatius was a contemporary of St. John the Apostle.

In the his writings, St. Ignatius confesses Jesus as God and, furthermore, is willing to die for this belief.  He also refers to the Eucharist as the flesh of Jesus Christ which is a very Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.  Here are some examples:

“being united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God.”-The Epistle to the Ephesians

“There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible— even Jesus Christ our Lord.”-The Epistle to the Ephesians

“For our GodJesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.”-The Epistle to the Ephesians

“Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons. And this will be the case with you if you are not puffed up, and continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles”.-The Epistle to the Trallians

For our GodJesus Christ, now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed[in His glory]. Christianity is not a thing of silence only, but also of [manifest] greatness.-The Epistle to the Romans

“I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”-The Epistle to the Romans

“Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God.”-The Epistle to the Romans

The writings of Ignatius really affected me because as a JW I was taught that after the Apostles died all of the “Catholic type of false doctrines” began to arise among the early Christians.  However, here was a leader of the Christian community in Antioch willing to die for these “Catholic” beliefs and he was alive during the time of the Apostle John.  Furthermore, no matter what Early Church Father I read, I discovered that their beliefs were in no way, shape or form similar to anything that the JWs taught or continue to teach at this time.  Therefore, I had to wonder if the claims that the JWs make of being the re-establishment of organized first century Christianity on earth was really something that I could believe in.


If you would like more information on the Early Church Fathers and what they believed compared to what the JWs claim you may wish to read the following:

THE WATCHTOWER AND THE ANTE-NICENE CHURCH FATHERS  by Michael J. Partyka

Jehovah’s Witnesses on Trial:  The Testimony of the Early Church Fathers by Robert U. Finnerty

After I read about the beliefs of the Early Church Fathers, I began wondering how it is that Christians decided what books to place in the New Testament or, as the JWs call it, the Christian Greek Scriptures.  The information I discovered here went a long way to attracting me to the Catholic Church.  I will talk about this in my next blog post.

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The JWs’ Modalism Mistake.

Trinitarians reject Modalism

As I read more and more documents, Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic, about what these Christians believed about the nature of God, the more I realized how mistaken JWs are when they try to characterize what it is Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic Christians believe about the nature of God.  For example in the Watchtower publication known as Reasoning from the Scriptures on page 405 it says the following about how Christians explain the Trinity doctrine:

“According to the Athanasian Creed, there are three divine Persons (the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost), each said to be eternal, each said to be almighty, none greater or less than another, each said to be God, and yet together being but one God. Other statements of the dogma emphasize that these three “Persons” are not separate and distinct individuals but are three modes in which the divine essence exists.”

The latter part of the quote above which says that some Trinitarians believe that the “Persons” of the Blessed Trinity are not ‘separate and distinct individuals but are three modes in which the divine essence exists’, is not an accurate representation of the Trinity doctrine but it is an accurate description of another doctrine regarding the nature of God known as Modalism.

Modalism is described as a heresy by the Protestant Theologian Dr. Robert Morey in his book The Trinity-Evidence and Issues.  He describes what Modalism is on page 507:

“From the beginning, Modalism was based on the Platonic doctrine that God was an indivisible Monad and could not be divided into three separate Persons.  Thus, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not to be viewed as three distinct Persons, but as three different manifestations, modes, administrations, disguises, roles, or offices of one and the same Person.”

Also, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following in paragraph 254:

“The divine persons are really distinct from one another.  God is one but not solitary. “Father”, “Son”, “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son.” They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.” The divine Unity is Triune.”

So, in reality then, neither mainstream Protestant, Orthodox, nor Catholic scholars believe that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are the same person.  This means that much of the arguments that the JWs believe they are making against the Trinity doctrine are really arguments being made against the heresy of Modalism.  For example, in the book You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth on page 39 under the subheading IS GOD JESUS OR A TRINITY? it says:

“Further, on one occasion Jesus prayed to God, saying: “Let, not my will, but yours take place.” (Luke 22:42) If Jesus were the Almighty God, he would not have prayed to himself, would he?”

This question may cause a problem for a person who believes in Modalism and but it does not for a Trinitarian.  For the Trinitarian, Jesus is praying to God the Father who is a separate person from the Son.  However, Trinitarians do believe that Jesus, as God’s Son, has all of the qualities and attributes of God the Father and is, Almighty God by nature in a similar manner as a human child has all of the qualities of his human parents and is human by nature.

One of the many problems that I began to discover when accepting the JWs’ view of the nature of God is that I started seeing some serious contradictions between the Old and New Testaments when it came to dealing with the revelation about God’s nature.  I will explore this next.

The Mysterious Nature of Almighty God!

In general, the JWs are very uncomfortable with mystery.  In many respects, if there is something about the nature of God that is hard to understand or difficult to explain using mainly human reason, it makes the average JW very uncomfortable.  I will demonstrate this with a couple of examples from my own JW experience.

I can remember, as a JW, attending five meetings a week.  One of those meetings was usually on Tuesday evening where we met in the home of one of our fellow JWs and one of the local congregation elders lead us in a study of the Bible using one of the books published by the Watchtower Society as a guide.

Many of the topics that we discussed at these meetings dealt with the end of the world, as JWs saw it, and how Bible prophecy was being fulfilled in the world, as JWs saw it, at this very moment.  Much was made about the sovereignty of Jehovah, as Almighty God, and the inherent right that Jehovah had to rule over man.  During these studies we often discussed the great power and might of Jehovah as Almighty God.  I can remember reading the following scripture fairly often when a discussion of the greatness of Jehovah was the topic for that evening’s study:

“O, Jehovah, you yourself have proved to be a real dwelling for us. During generation after generation. Before the mountains themselves were born.  Or you proceeded to bring forth as with labor pains the earth and the productive land.  Even from time indefinite to time indefinite you are God.”-Psalms 90: 1, 2 New World Translation [Bold added]

This scripture and in particular the bolded part was emphasized to indicate that Jehovah, as Almighty God, had no beginning and no ending.  I remember trying to get my mind around the fact that as a JW we believed that Jehovah never had a beginning and never will have an ending and that Jehovah has and will always just exist.  I remember trying to discuss this attribute of Jehovah with my father and asking him about it.

He told me not to think about it too much because it would make me go crazy and there was really nothing good that could come of thinking about it.  Here was a mystery about God that the JWs accepted and that I could in some sense explain and understand on an intellectual level to some degree but it was beyond my human reason and experience to totally grasp. And, obviously my father was rather uncomfortable with this mystery about God.

Years later when I was in college, I had the opportunity to take a couple of classes in World History and World Literature.  In these classes, we were exposed to much of the classical history and literature of Western Civilization.  It was here that I was exposed to many different views on the nature of God throughout history, and I was also exposed to a somewhat systematic view of the Catholic and Protestant views on the nature of God which is vastly different from the JWs’ view on the nature of God.

In particularly, I remember for the first time realizing that for the mainstream Catholic and Protestant, God existed outside of time.  This was something rather new to me.  As a JW, I believed that God had always existed but that He had always existed within the bounds of space and time and I had never really considered the idea that Jehovah existed outside of the bounds of space and time.

One day while I was eating dinner with my parents and my siblings, I asked them for their opinion on whether or not we, as JWs, believed that Jehovah existed beyond the bounds of space and time.  When I asked the question my father had already left the dinner table and while he may have been in the room he did not really actively engage in the discussion.  My mother was starting to clear the table and was not really engaged in the discussion either but was listening as my brothers and I had this really interesting discussion on the topic with each of us giving our opinion.

After the discussion went on for about an hour or so, my mother, who must have been listening to our discussion, turned around from the kitchen sink where she had been washing dishes and with tears in her eyes and ran into her bedroom and slammed the door.  In a matter of minutes, my father entered the dining room and gave us all a good scolding for engaging in such an unprofitable discussion that had obviously upset my mother.

It was these experiences along with other things published in Watchtower literature that helped me to realize that the JWs, in general, are very uncomfortable with mystery and will do what they can to get rid of mystery in their own religion.

The JWs’ and the Christian’s view of Mystery

In the JWs’ booklet entitled Should You Believe In the Trinity? one of the main arguments they make against the Trinity doctrine is that it is considered to be a mystery and, for the JWs, mystery is equivalent to mental confusion.  Notice what they say in this on-line booklet:

“However, contending that since the Trinity is such a confusing mystery, it must have come from divine revelation creates another major problem. Why? Because divine revelation itself does not allow for such a view of God: “God is not a God of confusion.”—1 Corinthians 14:33Revised Standard Version (RS). http://www.watchtower.org/e/ti/article_02.htm

Their reasoning is that since the Trinity doctrine is mysterious and confusing and difficult to understand that this means it is not a trustworthy revelation about the nature of God since God is “not a God of confusion.” So, for the JW, when a Christian refers to the Trinity as a profound mystery it is, in the JW’s mind, the Christian’s way of admitting that they are confused and do not understand the Trinity doctrine.  However, this is not what a Christian means when they say that the Trinity is a profound mystery.

First of all, the doctrine of the Trinity has been stated and re-stated in numerous official Church documents throughout history.  Therefore, anyone who has the ability to read can discover for themselves what it is the Catholic Church teaches about the Triune nature of God.  For example, here is what is said about the Trinity doctrine in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 253:

“The Trinity is one.  We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity.” The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: “The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e., by nature one God.” In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215):  “Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature.”

For an excellent explanation of the Trinity written by a Protestant Theologian, I recommend the book The Trinity: Evidence and Issues by Dr. Robert Morey.

These writings give a very clear explanation of what a Christian, both Catholic and Protestant, believes when they confess their understanding of the nature of God as being Triune.  Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, believe that God is multi-personal.  With each person of the Blessed Trinity- Father, Son, and Spirit- having all of the qualities of God.

However, Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, will admit that this understanding of the nature of God is beyond our complete grasp using human reason and experience alone.  Therefore, because of this, God’s very nature is mysterious to us.  We can explain the nature of God to some extent by analogy but we have difficulty totally understanding the nature of God using our human reason and human experience alone and because of this, it is a mystery.

Similarly, as a JW, I was taught that Jehovah has just always existed and that he never had a beginning and will never have an ending.  This statement of belief about the nature of God is very clearly stated by the JWs as something that we believed as JWs.  It was not confusing per se, but it was beyond my ability as a JW to grasp completely using my human reason and experience alone.  It was a belief that we as JWs accepted about Jehovah but it was and is very mysterious to JWs, not unlike the way in which the Triune nature of God is mysterious to Christians.  The JWs even admit this in their book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth page 44:

“Although it may be hard for our minds to understand, Jehovah never had a beginning and will never have an end.  He is the “King of eternity.” (Psalm 90:2; 1 Timothy 1:17)

Once I realized that the JWs, in their own way, accept certain mysteries about God’s nature, such as Jehovah’s having always existed, in a similar way that Christians accept certain mysteries about God’s nature, like the Tri-unity of persons, I realized that just because a certain doctrine might be difficult to understand completely based on human reason and experience alone that this was not a good reason to reject a doctrine as false.