Trinity: Friendly Dialogue Between Seventh-day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witnesses
by Jaymark Molo
NOTE: This is a friendly dialogue between Jaymark Molo (SDA) and Michael Servetus (JW) regarding the doctrine of Trinity. If you want to see the whole discussion, see: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001528515873 Hope you would enjoy!
SDA: This is indeed a wonderful privilege to seek out beautiful reconciliations and respectful deviations between Seventh-day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding to our doctrine. Since you have suggested to start on this topic; it is my wish to humbly present our doctrine regarding Godhead (Trinity) in the light of Scriptures. But before that, allow me to define the biblical meaning of trinity first.
Trinity is an orthodox belief that there is but one being and true God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a unified and co-equal three distinct persons.
1. There is one God. We, the Seventh-day Adventist, are in full agreement with the clear teachings of the Scripture that there is one and only one God (Is 45:8; Mk 12:29, Rom 3:29-30, 1Cor 8:4, 1Tim 2:5, Jas 2:19). We also found an enormous difference between the usage of ‘God’s being’ and ‘God’s person’. Let me use an accommodating illustration to further explain mypoint: All persons are beings, but not all beings are persons. For example, a tree is a certain type of living being, but it certainly is not a person because all beings contain a particular nature. While on the other hand, personality is the ability to have emotion, will, to express oneself. Trees cannot speak. Rocks cannot think. Therefore, trees and rocks are not persons. So whenever we perceive a text/s (Ex. 15:11; 1 Kings 8:60; Isa. 45:5-6; 21-22; cf. 44:6-8, etc.) that describes the ‘uniqueness’ and ‘oneness’ of God, it refers to His Being, not to His person. This is indeed compatible with the strong monotheistic teachings of the Scripture.
2. This God is three distinct persons. We can see the plurality of God’s personhood in a certain number of texts in the Scripture; ie., in Genesis 1:26, we read “Then God said [singular], ‘Let Us make [plural] man in Our [plural] image, according to Our [plural] likeness.” There is a remarkable shift from singular to plural that alludes to the plurality of His personhood (see also, Gen. 3:22, 11:7, Isa. 6:8). But we also recognized that there is a partial revelation from the O.T. Therefore, we believe that we can best understood the doctrine of Trinity in the more expressed revelation from the N.T. In the New Testament, certain number of passages can help us to identify on who constitute the persons (ie., Mat. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 12:4-16; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 4:4-6) in the Trinity. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells his disciples that they should go, “and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This text initiates to introduce to us the three persons in the Trinity. First, we note that “in the name” is singular, not plural (“in the names“). Second, the union of these three names indicates that the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal with the Father. Third, the congruency argument implies that these three are indeed persons, including the Holy Spirit. Some (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses) have concluded that the Holy Spirit is a mere “force” or “power”, rather than a person. But the teaching of the Scripture is quite clear contrary to this: First, the name counselor or comforter (Gk. parakletos) is attributed to the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). Second, personal activities are ascribed to the Holy Spirit (teaching [John 14:26]; bearing witness [John 15:26; Rom. 8:16]; interceding or praying on behalf of others [Rom. 8:26-27], etc.) Third, the Holy Spirit speaks in the first person in the New Testament what Jehovah spoke in the first person in the Old Testament (Heb 10:15-17 [Jer. 31:33-34]; Heb 3:7-11 [Ps. 95:7-11]; Acts 28:25-27 [Isa. 6:8-10]).
3. These three persons are called God. The Father was called God (Mt 11:27; 26:39, Mk 1:9-11; Jn 17:5-26); the Son was called God (Jn 1:1-3; 20:28; Tit. 2:13); the Holy Spirit was called God (Acts 5:3-4). Do we have three gods now? No. We strongly deny the heretical belief of three gods (tritheism). But according to Genesis 2:24, man and woman are to “become one (echad) flesh,” a union of two separate persons. In Deuteronomy 6:4 the same word is used of God, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one (echad).” Moses could have used the Hebrew word yachid (absolute one) in Deuteronomy 6:4, but the Holy Spirit chose not to do so. So the Hebrew word “echad” (composite one) makes it easy for us to understand that the doctrine of Trinity (Lat. Trinitas, “tri-unity” or “three-in-oneness”) is not foreign to the Bible. Trinity is indeed a mystery. But, we should not be discouraged to study the different aspects of these mysteries that had been taught in Scripture.
Looking forward to a Christ centered discussion, Michael Garcia Servetus.
JW: Thank you for your reply. I will assure you that your belief will be respected. What is evident here is the simplicity of what we believe than what is presented by Trinitarians. When we read the scriptures and come across a scripture that mention God Jehovah we quickly understand it to refer to the highest being. For example when i quoted Gen. 2:4, Jehovah is presented as creator of heavens and earth.
SDA: Let me just give you a short responses to your argument in Genesis 2:4:
First, the simplicity of the doctrine does not determine its truthfulness. Incarnation may not be simple as it is to some, but it is clearly taught in the Bible (Jn. 1:1, 14).
Second, we are in one accord that the name “Jehovah” (εγώ ειμι) refers to the Highest Being. But we do not find a problem in the doctrine of the Trinity because it does not only refer to God the Father, but also to the Son (Exo. 3:14; Jn. 8:57) and to the Holy Spirit (Ps 78:17,21; Acts 7:51).
Third, the harmonious teaching of the Scriptures teaches that Jesus (Jn. 1:1-3; Col. 1:15) and the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Psa 104:30) are also part of the activity of creation.
Therefore, it not suffice to destroy the doctrine of Trinity with this argument.
JW: I hope it will be ok to ask some questions. Regarding your definition of Trinity, you said God is one being with three persons, is it normal for a being to have three persons or you just apply it to Trinity to accommodate your belief?
SDA: A: God himself is a mystery. There is no normality with mystery. There is no normality with God, but He chose to reveal Himself partially in the Scripture.
I think it is my turn to ask question now: How can you explain the remarkable shift from singularity to plurality (in Genesis 1:26) in the light of your strict belief in absolute singleness of His person?
JW: Our belief is in line with what is normal thinking, and as you admitted yours is not. In fact you were quick to admit that God is a mystery yet here you are trying to explain what is mystery to you. A being is an individual, and an individual has only one personality. That is what normal thinking is all about. A being named jaymark is also a person named jaymark and he is also an individual. In the same way that when the Bible said ‘i am Jehovah’, it means he is a person, a being and an individual. As you said this the normal understanding. Therefore Trinity is out from the meaning of what is a being, a person and an individual. If you read the Bible without the aid of Trinitarian pastors you will come out with the same understanding as we do. God bless. I will answer your question later.
SDA: Here are my responses, Mr. Michael Garcia Servetus:
First, again, the normality/simplicity of the doctrine does not determine its truthfulness. Incarnation may not be simple as it is to some, but it is clearly taught in the Bible (Jn. 1:1, 14).
Second, if God does not remain a mystery to me, then I will become a God himself who can comprehend all things similar to His infinite mind (Job 11:7-12). Unfortunately, I am not (Isa. 55:8-9). However, that should not discouraged us as long as the different aspects of these mysteries are ‘clearly’ taught in Scripture (see above).
Third, we must abhor ‘false’ and ‘misleading’ analogies with the doctrine of Trinity. We must not use ‘human analogies’ to illustrate an ‘unparalleled truth’ about God. Here is a helpful advise for us: “We must not put God into a box.” Therefore, ‘that’ analogy of yours is inadequate to illustrate the doctrine of Trinity.
JW: I think i am satisfied with what we established here with regards to the meaning of ‘person’, God used human language to let us understand him, and we understand Him within our human sphere. I read well your posts and everything is noted. So much to ‘correct’, like you said Jehovah is ‘ego eimi’, we will deal with these later. With regards to your question, Gen. 1:26, with the use of ‘us’. Since the Bible was written for humans, we interpret it within our human sphere. Always remember this, God wants us to understand Him so He communicated within our capacity. So when He said ‘Let us make man’ He was with someone else. ‘us’ is plural therefore we treat it that way. Plainly the Bible teaches this simple truth. Two persons, two beings, two individuals, as said that is the normal use of human language, and He used human language to let us understand Him.
SDA: It is my delight to answer your inquiries again:
First, true that “God ‘used’ human language to let us understand him”, but we should ‘not’ limit God using our human language. Human language never can express adequately divine realities. Theology is confronted with something so great that we cannot ‘fully’ comprehend, and so we must do the best we can with the analytical and descriptive tools at our disposal.
Second, regarding Gen. 1:26, you cannot believe the singleness of His (Jehovah) creatorship, if you believe that “He was with someone else.” Because if He was with someone else, there is plurality of creators. But since you believe that He was with someone else. Then, you believe in plurality of creators. Unfortunately, that is not compatible with your teachings.
Third, angels are not good candidate for this title (creator), because angels are also created being.The harmonious teaching of the Scriptures teaches that Jesus (Jn. 1:1-3; Col. 1:15) and the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Psa 104:30) are also part of the activity of creation. Therefore, this should be the most plausible interpretation.
Thank you for your enduring patience, Michael Garcia Servetus.
JW: Thank you for your reply. As I explained, Jehovah used human language to make us understand him and you agree with me. Therefore there is no reason to invent a word that is not understandable to humans or a word that is outside the realm ofmen. In John 17:3 Jesus said “knowledge” of God is important in a person’s salvation, from this we can conclude that Jehovah can never be a mystery to us. And as I explained earlier the word “being” basically means “one person” no such thing as “being” with multiple personality. With that in mind, Genesis 1:26 should be understood in this way, a being with a single personality is talking to someone different from him.
With regards to your concern that if we interpreted it this way then we will have multiple creators. You even mentioned that angels can never be creators. First of all let me clarify that the word “us” in Genesis 1:26 do not mean angels. I never said such words. I believe that Jehovah is the sole creator. No one is like him. But he can use His created beings to fulfill his purposes. One such created being is the “Logos”. John 1:1 says’ “In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God…..” Yes the Logos, the pre human Jesus was with God. How can we be sure that Jesus who was with God was a created being? The Bible answers: (Colossians 1:15) . . ., He is…..the firstborn of all creation;
As we can see Trinity has no place in the Bible, we cannot twist word meanings to fit a doctrine that never explained in the Bible.
Thank you and may you continue to communicate with “us”. (I have to emphasized the word “us” to remind you that I am using “us” within human context. Ho kurios meta sou.
SDA: These are my brief responses: First, it seems to me that you’ve committed straw man by agreeing ‘only’ that God “used human language to make us understand him” and not considering my whole argument by taking notice that “human language never can express adequately divine realities”. Let me also repeat this unnoticed argument again: “If God does not remain a mystery to me, then I will become a God himself who can comprehend all things similar to His infinite mind. Unfortunately, I am not.” Here is a helpful advice again for us: “Do not put God into a box (in the realm of human mind alone).” Therefore, the hint of Trinity in Genesis 1:26 can be still substantiated.
Second, John 17:3 must be put in a proper context. This text shows that knowledge is necessary for soteriology, not ontologically. Plus, even in this text, the verse does not asserts “full knowledge.” This is consistent with the whole teachings of the Scripture (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
Third, In Colossians 1:15, you argued that Jesus “was a created being ” and asserting that that is the meaning of the word prōtotokos. Unfortunately, that is not accurate exegesis of the text. Looking at the larger context, the Greek word prōtotokos (“firstborn”) is found 127 times in the Septuagint and eight times in the NT. In the majority of the cases it refers to a literal firstborn (Gen 41:51; Exod 34:19-29; Gen 43:37; 1 Chron 5:12). However, in a number of cases persons who originally did not belong to the category of the firstborn were made firstborn (Gen 41:51; cf. Gen 48:20; Jer 31:9). This can best explain in the case of Psalm 89. David who was the eighth child of his parents (1 Sam 16:10-11) would be made the firstborn. What this means is further explain in the second half of the verse: David as the firstborn would be the highest of the kings (20, 35, 49). Therefore, Psalms 89:27 does not stress the issues of being born or being the first chronologically, but emphasizes the special honor, greatness, and authority of the firstborn. In the NT the term prōtotokos is applied to Jesus six times (Luke 2:7; Rom 8:29; Col 1:15; Col 1:18; Rev 1:5; Heb 1:6). Going back to the text, the immediate context of Colossians 1:15, will show that Jesus was viewed as the “image of God” and “Creator.” Therefore, He Himself is not created. In additional to that in this text the term “firstborn” is used twice. As Jesus is the firstborn of creation so He is the firstborn of the dead. The second phrase, which explains the first, makes it clear that the issue is not literal birth. Jesus was raised from the dead but not of course literally born from the dead, because He was not the first in a literal sense. Others were raised before Him. He was first in the sense that all resurrections whether past or future were and are dependent on His resurrection. Without His resurrection no other resurrection is possible. Verse 18 shows what that means, namely “that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” This is consistent with Psalm 89, concluding that being the “firstborn” is associated with having supremacy. That should be the faithful rendering of the text.
Blessings, Michael Garcia Servetus!
JW: Hi jaymark, I will answer your issues one by one, but first let me concentrate on your argument that God is a mystery, as I have said Jehovah used human language and let us understand him within the bound of being humans, I did not say that we go beyond what is not human. The bible is complete as to the nature of God but within human sphere. And I am sorry to tell you that Triniity was never explained in the Bible.
Second, your argument against my quotation of John 17:3 I think was answered with my first answer. As I have said, The Bible is written for men not for gods, so Jehovah used human language, we should not go beyond what He wanted us to know about him,
Third, “firstborn of all creation” taken alone means first to be created, as in the case of Jesus where he was with God in the beginning, possible because he was the first to be with Jehovah.
And jaymark, i am sorry but i have to correct you, in john 17.3, the word for ‘know’ has the meaning of complete understanding.
One more my friend, you said something like ‘the hint of Trinity in Gen. 1.26’, a HINT? Your most important doctrine is just a HINT? Please don’t be offended. Ho kurios meta sou.
In your comment on the word ‘firstborn’ you said something like, ‘in MAJORITY of the cases it means the literal firstborn’, that’s it, in MAJORITY OF THE CASES, why will you want it figurative? Jesus was literally first to be brought forth. Ho kurios meta sou:)
SDA: Hello, Michael Garcia Servetus! I’ve just noticed that most of your arguments are unsubstantiated (ie., the etymology of the word “know” in Jn. 17:3, etc.). Nevertheless, allow me to answer your question gently:
First, as I perceived your argument, your argument can be dissected like this: “If the Bible was written for man, then it should be understood ‘only’ in the sphere of man. The Bible was written for man. So, it should be understood ‘only’ in the sphere of man.” There are, however, some dilemmas in that argument – Understanding it only in the sphere of man: (1) does not take account the “divine sphere” of the Bible. This argument, indeed, belittles the divine nature of the Bible – inspiration. (2) attempts to compare God to man. That comparative (between God and man), however, is not warranted to the Bible (Numbers 23:19). (3) is a limited method to study God. Since, God is infinite. We should not adhere to that kind of method of Theology. Theology must start above, not below. (4) forgets that human language never can express adequately divine realities. Theology is confronted with something so great that we cannot ‘fully’ comprehend, and so we must do the best we can with the analytical and descriptive tools at our disposal. Here is a helpful advice again for us: “Do not put God into a box (in the realm of human mind alone).” The point was simple: “Si comprehendis non est Deus.” If you can get your mind around it, it cannot be God.
Second, like what said, John 17:3 shows that knowledge (not full) is necessary for soteriology, not ontologically. And this argument will be supported by 1 Tim. 3:15: “From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to give you the wisdom you need (sufficient) for salvation through faith in the Messiah Jesus.” (NIV, emphasis supplied). Sufficient knowledge is far different from complete knowledge. There must be differentiation between those words.
Lastly, regarding Col. 1:15, you’ve just committed an “argumentum ad populum (appeal to the people).” Seventh-day Adventist way of hermeneutics consider not only the larger context, but also the immediate context of the text. And in this case, this text should be interpreted as the “firstborn” associated with having supremacy.
Looking forward to an exegetical answer friend.
JW: Sorry for the late reply and thank you for your patience. You said, “human language never can express adequately divine realities.” My answer: I never said human language can interpret the very being of God. What I said is “Jehovah used human language to make us understand him”. In that way we can know Jehovah according to what He revealed to us through “human language.”
In Genesis 1:26, Jehovah said, “Let us make man”, plainly said and without any hidden “HINT” as you said. What do you mean by “us”? “Us always refer to more than one being. And in the normal usage of language a being has just but one person. No such thing as a being with three personalities. Unless theologians will influence your thinking.
You said, “If God does not remain a mystery to me, then I will become a God himself who can comprehend all things similar to his infinite mind.” My answer: I wonder where in the Bible did you quoted this. I know this is not your original and I know it’s not from the Bible. Did we agree that no quotation from outside source? Bible alone will be the basis? This is the reason why I ignored it not just once but as many as you posted this line. But for clarity I will say, and it is my stand. We don’t have to cross a boundary, which is we don’t have to be God; we just have to be content with what Jehovah had revealed thru His written words, the Bible.
Then you said, “Do not put God into a box”, This is again a suspect, I think it’s not your original, well and good if that is coming from your own mind, but I highly doubt your just parroting some famous Trinitarian theologians. But for clarity again, we are humans and He is God, We have limitations, He has not, But he communicated to us in order for us to “know” him. But I will emphasize, “Know” within what God revealed, not the so called “Trinity HINT” of yours.
You said, “Therefore, the HINT of Trinity in Genesis 1:26 ca be still substantiated.” My answer: Genesis 1:26 can be understood without any hidden HINT and I already explained our stand..
Then you mentioned words like “soteriology” and “ontologically”, intended for John 17:3 and you commented on the word “know” . My answer: Here is the big difference between an upcoming Theologian and an ordinary Christian. Many of our Trinitarian friends like you have “professionalized” preaching. You used language different from what we ordinary use. It is your “profession to teach” but it is my responsibility. The word “know” in John 17:3 means “complete” or “absolute”. We can elaborate on this if you want. If you want to prove my words to be false then the burden of proof is yours not mine.
Lastly, you commented on Col. 1:15. My answer: It was you who explained the larger context of the word “firstborn” and according to you, “in MAJORITY of cases it means the literal firstborn”. Having that in mind, it is easier to conclude that Jesus is “firstborn” in the sense of “first to be brought forth”.
Just keep in touch.
SDA: Happy Sabbath, friend Michael Garcia Servetus! It seems to me that you are continually accusing me of breaking rules without giving some proofs (i.e., the usage of ‘Do not put God into a box, etc.). Anyway, here are my responses:
First, thank you for admitting to me that “human language can [never] interpret the very being of God.” And since God USED human language, then the inevitable result is “human language [that God used] never can express adequately divine realities.” Remember, there was no word before the Word.
Second, “γινώσκωσιν” (ginōskōsin) is in present subjunctive active. Therefore, your interpretation to the meaning of the word “know” (absolute) in John 17:3 cannot become legitimate meaning in GREEK. Please consider Greek in your word study. The correct rendition should be “that they may know(ing) [connotes, continually] you.”
NOTE: The subjunctive expresses an element of uncertainty, often a wish, desire, doubt or hope, and, certainly, not in an absoluteness way.
Third, true that “majority of cases it means the literal firstborn,” but it seems you failed to realize that that is not always the case (Psalm 89). The biblical way of interpretation is not a matter of appealing to the majority of cases, but the faithful examination of the immediate and larger context of the text. And again, in this case, this text should be interpreted as the “firstborn” associated with having supremacy
Just keep in touch too.
JW: Thank you for your reply, you said: “It seems to me that you are continually accusing me of breaking rules without giving some proofs.” My answer, you can simply deny my accusation by saying “they are my original words”, as I said, I suspect they are quotations from famous Trinitarian teachers. Be a good Christian, deny if false, and admit if true.
You said: “human language can never interpret the very being of God.” My answer: It’s my stand from the beginning. Human language has limitations but God used it to make us understand Him. Therefore we should interpret the Bible within the limits of human language. As I said, Gen 1.26 where the word “us” was used, it means two or more beings are talking to each other, therefore Trinity “HINT” as you said can never be an option in interpreting the verse. What I am against is your invention of words to make Trinity sound Biblical.
You said: “γινωσκωσιν is in present subjunctive active.” My answer: No problem with that, Greek is well taken in our studies. What I am disturbed about is your conclusion. You forgot to include the word preceding γινωσκωσιν, Because of this you hastily concluded that know here means “not in an absoluteness way.” May I suggest you study further the Uses of subjunctive in Biblical studies? Why? Because the thought of “probability” is only one of the uses of subjunctive.
Then regarding Col 1.15, as I said, you already admitted that “MAJORITY” of uses favors our interpretation, therefore the burden of proof is yours. As far as I am concern, you have to give convincing argument to prove your point.
I will elaborate further as our discussion progresses. Ho kurios meta sou.
SDA: Please answer my questions, Michael Garcia Servetus.
Q1: Jesus Christ are having two natures, one is divine and one is human. Do you still consider that truth within the limits of human language?
Q2: Regarding the usage of subjunctive case, can we find a lexical support in your claim, which is absoluteness?
Q: Does your Church willing to disregard the “immediate context” of the text for the sake of majority (not all, see Psa. 89) of interpretations?
May God continually bless our discussion.
The discussion was abruptly cut by the non-response of Michael Servertus.