For the past several weeks, I have studied with Jehovah's Witnesses, members of one of the many millenarian, restorationist Christian traditions to spring forth from the American continent in the early 19th century.
Walking away from these meetings, I better appreciated where we agree and where we disagree.
This post is about where we disagree.
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the publishing arm and one of the legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses, publishes a brochure I am going to spend the next several blog posts reviewing.
It is titled, "Should You Believe the Trinity: Is Jesus Christ the Almighty God?"
I have not been able to find this specific publication online, but if I do, I will include link to it in subsequent posts.
Chapter One: "Should You Believe it?"
The brochure begins by asking, "Do you believe in the Trinity? Most people in Christendom do. After all, it has been the central doctrine of the churches for centuries. In view of this, you would think that there could be no question about it. But there is, and lately even some of its supporters have added fuel to the controversy" (3).
Here begins a pattern of inconsistency wherein if the logic employed in this brochure against the Trinity was used against positions held by Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs), those positions would be refuted, too.
For example, the brochure implies that because the Trinity "has been the central doctrine of the churches for centuries" one would think "there could be no question about it."
However, this is obviously false, as belief in Jesus's virgin birth, his anointing by the Holy Spirit, his ministry of healings and exorcism, his ascension into heaven, and his revelation to John his apostle concerning the the Last Days, all teachings JWs would consider "central", have also been called into questions by supposed "supporters."
Yet, the JWs do not argue that these beliefs are false or use the existence people who doubt these doctrines to undercut their thereof.
And, indeed, when we look at the individual "supporters" whom "Should You Believe the Trinity" (SYBTT) references, many of them hold rationalistic worldviews and use reasoning JWs would reject if such worldviews and reasoning were applied to their doctrines.
In proof of this, page three of SYBT quotes "one history source" a book titled "The Paganism in Our Christianity" as saying, "the origin of the [Trinity] is entirely pagan."
Here it is important to add, in addition to using inconsistent reasoning, SYBT also engages in extensive quote mining, where various quotes are selected and featured for no reason other than that they agree with the position of JWs, while quotes from scholars who disagree are noticeably absent.
The author of "The Paganism in Our Christianity", Arthur Weigall, (1880-1934) has no apparent credentials to speak of that would make him in expert in Christian history, Christian origins, or Christian doctrine.
Indeed, his educational background was in Egyptology 1.
Furthermore, in his book "Paganism", which gets more playing time than the work of any other single author in SYBT, he not only asserts the Trinity is pagan, but that the virgin birth 2, the calling of twelve disciples 3, the atoning work of Christ on the cross 4, worshiping on Sunday 5, and the miracles of Jesus are all pagan in origin 6.
Unsurprisingly, he also rejects the belief that the New Testament is a reliable historical account 7.
However, the Watchtower skips past his lack of qualifications, his disbelief in these many Bible doctrines, and his rejection of the reliability of the New Testament, and simply focuses on Weingall's rejection of the Trinity because that supports their position on the Trinity.
Furthermore, calling Weingall's book a "historical source", is as transparent as me quoting a biased Evangelical work on the history of Jehovah's Witnesses and calling it a "historical source".
This first chapter is only half a page long. In the next post we will examine chapter two of the brochure.
1. See his biography, A Passion for Egypt, written by his granddaughter, Julie Hankey.
2. The Paganism in Our Christianity, Arthur Weigall, 1928; 44, 60: It seems, in fact, that we have to deal with a contradiction due to the later insertion of the story of the Virgin Birth beside the earlier story of the descent of Jesus from David through Joseph; and, in this case, we may place its inception somewhere in the Second Century. The growth of such a story may well be understood, for tales of the births of pagan gods and heroes from the union of a deity with a maiden were common."
"The story of the Virgin Birth, as I have pointed out in Chapter IV, is derived from pagan sources."
3. The Paganism in Our Christianity, Arthur Weigall, 1928, 25: "There is evidence, it is suggested, of the cult of a sun-god called Joshua or Jesus in primitive times, whose, twelve disciples were the twelve signs of the Zodiac and just as Jesus Christ with His twelve apostles came to Jerusalem to eat the Paschal lamb, so Joshua crossed the Jordan with his twelve helpers and offered that jamb on the other side, and so the Greek Jason -an identical name- with his twelve retainers went in search of the golden fleece of the lamb. It is pointed out that there are no contemporary or nearly contemporary references to Jesus in history, with the exception of those in the genuine Epistles of Paul and Peter, where, however, His life on earth is hardly mentioned at all, nor anything which really establishes Him as a historic personage."
4. The Paganism in Our Christianity, Arthur Weigall, 1928, 10: "The worship of suffering gods was to be found on all sides, and the belief in the torture of the victims in the rites of human sacrifice for the redemption from sin was very general. The gods Osiris, Attis, Adonis, Dionysos, Herakles, Prometheus, and others, had all suffered for mankind; and thus the Servant of Yahweh was also conceived as having to be wounded for' men's transgressions. But as I say, this conception had passed into the background in the days of Jesus."
5. The Paganism in Our Christianity, Arthur Weigall, 1928, 136: The Hebrew Sabbath having been abolished by Christians, the Church made a sacred clay of Sunday, partly because it was the day of the resurrection, but largely because it was the weekly festival of the sun; for it was a definite Christian policy to take over the pagan festivals endeared to the people by tradition, and to give them a Christian significance. But, as a solar festival, Sunday was the sacred day of Mithra; and it is interesting to notice that since Mithra was addressed, as Dominus, ‘Lord,” Sunday must have been ‘the Lord’s Day’ long before Christian times.”
6. The Paganism in Our Christianity, Arthur Weigall, 1928, p58: "The marvel is not that there are so many, but that there are so few, improbable stories told about Him, since He was acknowledged to be divine, and therefore was presumed to have performed miracles and to have been the cause of miraculous occurrences..These, and hundreds of similar stories in connection with other persons, were the talk of the world at the time of the composition of the Gospels. Everybody believed in miraculous events, in signs and wonders; and it was always assumed that saintly or divine personages showed their. power by performing miracles. Plotinus, the philosopher, is said, to have performed them; Apollonius of Tyana is credited with many miracles; and those told of the early Christian saints are far more numerous and far more extraordinary than are those of the Founder of the Faith."
7. The Paganism in Our Christianity, Arthur Weigall, 1928, p58: "The earliest of the Gospels, that of St. Mark, did not assume its present form until between forty and seventy years after the death of our Lord, and the other Gospels are still later in date; and it is absolutely incredible that the stories about Him should have remained unexaggerated and unaugmented during that period. Tales about a popular hero invariably expand; and in the case of those relating to Jesus, who was accepted by His early followers at first as the God sent Messiah and then as the Son of God incarnate on earth, it is impossible to believe that they would not gradually have been embellished, or that some of them would not have been developed around an insignificant nucleus, or unconsciously borrowed from other sources, or even invented."
I am indebted to the folks at Bible.ca for the quotes from Weigall's book.
I am indebted to the folks at Bible.ca for the quotes from Weigall's book.