Tertullian, Jehovah’s Witnesses And Trinity

Tertullian

There are few pillars in Christian Church history that can tower one of the finest North African’s Latin theologian and apologist Tertullian (ca. 160- ca. 225 A.D.)

My interest in the life and works of Tertullian sprouted from an encounter with door-to-door Jehovah’s Witnesses. In one of our dialogues, I was handed the Watch Tower Bible And Tract Society’s brochure, “Should You Believe in the Trinity? Is Jesus Christ the Almighty God?” in which the Watch Tower Society argued that the doctrine Trinity God was alien to early Christians.

Noticing that “trinitas” appeared in the works of Tertullian, Watchtower Society contended that, “this is no proof in itself that Tertullian taught the Trinity”(Watchtower 1989: 5).  It took a decade for Watchtower’s organization to discover their mistake. Contrary to what they believed, Tertullian defended not only the doctrine of Trinity God but also the deity of Christ Jesus and the bodily resurrection, among other doctrines, which they deny. The Watchtower Society admitted,

“[Tertullian] coined the formula “one substance in three persons.” Using this concept, he attempted to show that God, his Son, and the holy spirit were three distinct persons existing in one divine substance. Tertullian thus became the first to apply the Latin form of the word “trinity” to the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit.”(Watchtower 2002: 31)

In this article, I pointed out a small potion of Tertullian’s work that caused Watchtower’s organization to alter their understanding of this Northern African’s giant.

Tertullian view of Doctrine Of Trinity

Writing against Praxeas, who taught Monarchianism viz., the doctrine that held the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to be one and the same person, Tertullian presented one of the earliest and most robust defenses of one and only God in three distinct persons. Tertullian contended:

Bear always in mind that this is the rule of faith which I profess; by it I testify that the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit are inseparable from each other, and so will you know in what sense this is said. Now, observe, my assertion is that the Father is one, and the Son one, and the Spirit one, and that They are distinct from Each Other. […] Father and the Son are demonstrated to be distinct; I say distinct, but not separate[1].(Tertullian 1885: 603)

Quoting Isaiah 42:1, 45:1 61:1(Luke 4:18) 53:1-2, Psalms 71:18, 3:1, 110:1, Tertullian argued:

Still, in these few quotations the distinction of Persons in the Trinity is clearly set forth. For there is the Spirit Himself who speaks, and the Father to whom He speaks, and the Son of whom He speaks.(ibid)

Pointing to Moses’ usage of plural phrases “us”, and “our” instead of “me” and “my” uttered by God in Genesis 1-3, Tertullian correctly reasoned, that  God the Father “had already His Son close at His side, as a second Person, His own Word, and a third Person also, the Spirit in the Word, that He purposely adopted the plural phrase”(ibid).

Though Tertullian did not contend in detail the deity of the Holy Spirit, he showed that the Spirit was the third person of tres Personae, una Substantia.

 Question: Did you know that the doctrine of one God in three persons was taught by early Christians?

Bibliography:

Watchtower (1989) Should You Believe in the Trinity?  Is Jesus Christ the Almighty God? Watch Tower Bible And Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

_____________ (2002) Who Is God? May 15th. Watch Tower Bible And Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

Tertullian. (1885). Tertullian In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.


[1] Tertullian explained further that its “on the ground of Personality, not of Substance—in the way of distinction, not of division.”

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43 thoughts on “Tertullian, Jehovah’s Witnesses And Trinity

  1. Prayson, Be blessed in your inner man. I pray for strength for the journey for you. You face a pride of lions with a lot of roar and supposed insight. I admire your courage in your quest.

  2. I did know. I think it’s the only construction that is faithful to all of the propositions in Scripture about deity (There is one God. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Spirit. The Father is not the Spirit.) The trinity is essential to Christian faith, to saving faith. It is the foundation of what we reformed folk call the covenant of redemption.

    I I enjoyed reading your reminder of such an important doctrine.

    (Sorry, you took such heat on this from one of your readers.)

  3. No. I did not point solely to Wikipedia for research I wrote start with Wiki.
    You are the worst kind of apologetic – one who is really only interested in putting forward their own theologically biased point of view -largely based on a foundation of faith, not truth or fact.

    This way you are able to armor yourself against criticism because you are already inculcated to believe that any who challenge this perspective are automatically wrong.

    You display this form of arrogance on every post you write and every thread you comment on.
    There are several reborns with a similar modus operendi.
    I honestly cannot see the reason for this attitude. It wins you almost no respect among your blogging peers, you are not open to new ideas outside of your own rigid interpretation of your faith based beliefs and all you appear to do is accrue information which you post that is often erroneous, at the expense of honesty and personal integrity.
    If all you are after is recognition to fuel your fragile self-worth then maybe you should ask non-believers not to comment and rather gather a fan base of religious groupies that can fawn over your rhetoric.

    • Arkenaten, I am not armed against criticism. If I were I would have block anyone who offer challenge, mostly those who ridicule, attack my personality and not the case I present e.t.c.

      Arkenaten, if asking for you to defend your assertions, which you never do but direct me to start with Wikipedia, is considered arrogance then be it.

      I am not after respect among my blog peers, I am after truth and truth alone no matter the cost. I blog not to please my readers but to stir critical thinking, challenge their and my beliefs.

      I am open to new well defended ideas. I was open for you to defend your assertion that the Bible does not teach that there are three persons who are understood to be God, yet there is one God, you did not. I was open for you to just name a single group, that is not Arianian, and I will help you with the research, you did not.

      So I am puzzled. You produced no reasons for me to hold your new ideas but you simply wanted me to take your words or start reading Wikipedia. I am lost Arkenaten, I do not know what you are expecting from me.

  4. “If you could direct me to page number(s) or name of a group you asserted that denied the doctrine of Trinity, and not Arianian, then I will be glad to research.

    The question is not does the Bible actually mentions the Trinity, but does it teach one God in three distinct persons. We can called whatever. You said it does not. So I am asking, how did you come to that conclusion? Can you defend your position by producing Bible passages that support your view?”
    I’m tempted, really am… but….nah, no can do, old sport.
    You’ll just have to take my word for it, or…go and research.
    As for bible passages. RFLMAO. Even Jesus never said he was ‘god’, in fact he denied it.

    But first,let’s have an answer for the Comma Johanneum first, shall we?
    How do we explain that little bit of fraudulent interpolation.

    Maybe then we can discuss the liar Eusebius, then maybe, just maybe we can talk about those ‘groups’ you are hankering after so badly.
    .

  5. Prayson, if you go tot Don’s web site you will see that he also is of friend of Christianity: he can’t be because he gets even less visitors than I do and less comments.
    I think it is because no one understands what he writes about. Weird stuff ab out Number 7. I think he has a fixation. All sounds a bit wackadoodle if you ask me.
    One has to be wary of this type of Christian; they might come and knock on your door. Should Oregon be warned, I wonder?

  6. Dear Don,

    It’s a He by the way….

    “Prayson, if you go to Arkenaten’s web site, you will see that he/she is no friend of Christianity, but is just playing with you.”

    SMILE ….Prayson is a big boy, I am sure he doesn’t need any Government Health Warnings from fellow Chrestus Bloggers.
    For what is worth , Don, you are 100% correct. I am no friend of Christianity. Neither am I a ‘friend’ of falsehood and downright lies and their defenders. Which, surprise, surprise, is JUST what Christianity is. Who would have guessed?
    Hang in there, Don. The Parousia is just around the corner, my mate.

    Speak nicely to JC and he might take you along.

  7. “I will be happy to remain in my ignorance unless I am presented with a good cases against Trinity. You can not just make assertion, and when asked to defend them, point people to Wikipedia. Sadly I do not buy assertion that are not defended in contemporary journals, nor Church history literature.”
    I can make assertion actually. Whether you wish to go and research is another matter. Maybe your reluctance is based on you stubborn pride or maybe you are afraid you might find something that upsets your rigid apologetic, non factual point of view?

    But I suppose you could always start with the number one Chriustian liar, Eusebius, how’s that?
    Read his Church History.

    And I reiterate there is no mention of the Trinity in the bible. The early Christians did not preach it.
    Unless, of course you have a different version of the bible that actually mentions the Trinity? Mine doesn’t

    • Indeed you are welcome to make assertion, Arkenaten. I just wanted to know if your assertions are true. I have read the whole of Eusebius’ Church History and do possess it. I also have all Phillip Schaff’s collection and Lightfoot, both in original Greek and English.

      If you could direct me to page number(s) or name of a group you asserted that denied the doctrine of Trinity, and not Arianian, then I will be glad to research.

      The question is not does the Bible actually mentions the Trinity, but does it teach one God in three distinct persons. We can called whatever. You said it does not. So I am asking, how did you come to that conclusion? Can you defend your position by producing Bible passages that support your view?

  8. Well, Arkenaten. It is not theological gymnastics because I wanted you to know the difference between universal(catholic) used in small c with Rome’ Catholicism to which what you claimed about Peter is its central dogma.

    “Augustine, Origen and John Chrysostom contended that it is not Peter whom Jesus would build his Church, but Peter’s confession. Leo I, the first Pope, and one of the main founder of Rome Catholicism believed it was Peter, and now it is Rome Pope heading the Church in the place of Peter.|

    No, I don’t claim Peter is its central dogma. The bible clearly states it IS. And thus the original church traces its origins back to this. You wish to split hairs and say it is Peter’s confession, so be it. In the bible it quotes Jesus saying what he said and It is still Peter who is claimed to be the first bishop of Rome by the Catholics and the founder of your religion. Not that there is any evidence that he was ever in Rome… although some say he was, and was martyred there. Some say there were, in fact TWO Peters.
    You see, so much of it is just spurious nonsense, subterfuge and downright falsehood designed to baffle and blind the likes of you millions more, and that it is really quite difficult, nay, impossible to attach any serious credibility to anything about your religion to be honest.
    And then again., many contend it was the character Saul/Paul who is really the founder.
    While others are emphatic he too, was a narrative construct.
    But you can choose to believe what you like, after all, Cherry picking is what Christians of all flavors as so GOOD at doing.

    In all likelihood, it was the likes of Eusebius, that great Liar For Jesus and the Church, forger of note, and best pal of Constantine who along with others probably made it all up.

    It bothers me not that you don;t wish to accept my assertion re the Trinity. It is only mildly surprising because you are prepared to accept so many other aspects of your religion on blind faith and in this you are too stubborn to even do a bit of research? So be it.
    Be happy in your ignorance.

    • You missed the point Arkenaten. I did not say you claimed Peter is its central dogma, but that Jesus claimed that it was Peter who He will build his Church. This is the central dogma of Rome’s Catholic Church, that Peter is the Head of the universal church.

      I do not split the hairs and say Peter’s confession is what Jesus said to build the church, but some early Christians understood the confession, not Peter to be the foundation of the Church.

      I think it you who is cherry picking because you pick one reading, offered first by Bishop of Rome Damasus and later by Pope Leo I, ignoring other views.

      Remember the point was to show you that Leo I introduced Rome’s Catholicism, which is different from catholic Church(for catholic Church includes Eastern Orthodox, and other Christian groups)

      I will be happy to remain in my ignorance unless I am presented with a good cases against Trinity. You can not just make assertion, and when asked to defend them, point people to Wikipedia. Sadly I do not buy assertion that are not defended in contemporary journals, nor Church history literature.

  9. @ Prayson
    ” hope you are not mixing catholic(universe) Christianity with Catholicism. Remember Rome’ Catholicism was not around that time.”

    Okay, here we go with some of your ridiculous theological gymnastics…not unexpected,.but I’ll play for a bit.

    St Ignatius was the first person to use the term Catholic…which as you might know comes from the Greek word, Katholikos – which means universal.
    HOWEVER, it was your very own JC himself who told Peter, “For I say to you,you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church”, or something like that, (can’t be bothered to dig out my KJV and check if this is 100% accurate) from Matthew, if memory serves?

    “Could you defend your case that the Bible does not teach the doctrine of trinity?”

    Nope. Bible doesn’t teach the trinity. The Comma Johanneum, for example, is an interpolation and does not feature in the earliest Greek manuscripts…and you should know this. The other ‘favorites’ Christians love quoting are not worth mentioning as every one is merely an interpretation.

    “Could you be kind to name a group Arkenaten, that is not Arianian that you claimed did not accept trinity? I will do the research,but I need a name Arkenaten.”

    Unfortunately , no again, I’m afraid. Best you go and do some proper research, then you might learn something rather than kowtowing to silly apologetic dogma that merely makes you feel warm and fuzzy.
    Have fun…

    • Well, Arkenaten. It is not theological gymnastics because I wanted you to know the difference between universal(catholic) used in small c with Rome’ Catholicism to which what you claimed about Peter is its central dogma.

      Augustine, Origen and John Chrysostom contended that it is not Peter whom Jesus would build his Church, but Peter’s confession. Leo I, the first Pope, and one of the main founder of Rome Catholicism believed it was Peter, and now it is Rome Pope heading the Church in the place of Peter.

      If you can not defend your claim that the Bible does not teach the doctrine of trinity and you can not give me a single group, that is not Arianian, Arkenaten, then I think I cannot accept your claims blindly. :) For I need good reasons, historical data and so on to accept your assertions.

      • Daniel,

        I am usually much more patient than this, but your attitude against common sense arguments and reason (which attitude is nevertheless widely common in your circles) compels me.
        You totally disregarded my reply’s biblical confrontation, recommending me the reading of books… Well, I’m used to this…
        I am refraining myself into digging deeper into why would you altogether disconsider Wikipedia as a source of information, when Arkenaten has suggested it to you not as a scholarly source, but as a starting point for looking after sources.
        When you make statements concerning what “academia” does accept or not, please make sure you list your completed, earned and awarded credentials anywhere on your site, just to make sure you could speak in my name as well, even though, together with all my listed credentials and some scholarly past, I humbly barely allow myself to speak anything for the “academia” in a general manner, which is totally unacceptable in academic circles.
        Yes, I am aware, “christian academia” doesn’t favour Wikipedia, because Wikipedia tries to remain unbiased, and yes it is far from perfect, but in my scholarly opinion it is at least as fair as CCEL for a research starting point…
        Further, your attitude towards Arkenaten’s challenge concerning the clear places where the bible would mention the Trinity, is very unscholar and unacademic, because the vast majority of theological works start their Trinity related chapters stating the fact that this is not directly mentioned in the scriptures, making therefore the trinitarian doctrine -like many others-, a theological doctrine, and not a biblical one. But I guess that’s fine for a religion which originally started as a Jewish sect, keeping all Jewish rules and practices, but became hijacked by an apostate Jewish wannabe apostle, and been theologically made palatable for the ruling and expanding non-Jewish occupying empires and their inhabitants.
        And as a scholarly private mention, why do you think it took centuries of “debates” in trying to reach a far from clear conclusion?

        You are a fine young man, you have my share of consideration for your youthful zeal, but I would humbly encourage you to get back to an “academic” tone debating after you will have met all necessary requirements. Common sense should suffice until then in my opinion.

        Until then, I am taking a symbolic and insignificant step you will shortly notice, as a private and silent sign of protest.

        Wishing you all the best, to you and your wonderful family.

      • Rom, I agree that Wiki should be used as a starting point, mostly for those who are not familiar with a given topic. If you are familiar, Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Australian National University, to mention the few, do not allow using Wiki as a citation source.

        Australian National University, for example, states reasons why Wiki entries should be treated with caution as research sources: Entries:

        are not necessarily written by experts in the field
        can be heavily biased
        can be of substandard quality, subject to misinformation and error.(academicskills.anu)

        Sorry that I need well informed sources. I need journals, books, or online sources that are reliable and are written by scholars in that particular field.

        I did not totally disregard your biblical confrontation but recommended you to read Tertullian’s works that I believe made him being viewed as the father of Western theology. If you have not read those books then I believe it is premature to place Tertullian in the position you placed him.

        I am a bad tree, Rom, and I will always give bad fruit and I am a hypocrite, who is trying to first take the plank out of my eye so that I can see before I share something. Bad people, with bad fruits, still have something to offer. I believe it is because I offer something, even if you do not agree, that is the reason you still come back to read my posts.

        Have a good day Rom.

        – Prayson

      • Daniel,

        I am pasting in here a vitally important part of my -largely ignored and misinterpreted by you- previous reply:

        When you make statements concerning what “academia” does accept or not, please make sure you list your completed, earned and awarded credentials anywhere on your site, just to make sure you could speak in my name as well, even though, together with all my listed credentials and some scholarly past, I humbly barely allow myself to speak anything for the “academia” in a general manner, which is totally unacceptable in academic circles.

        Just make sure please to back your “academic” expectations with the proper academic qualifications.
        Otherwise your expectations of others to read theological treaties which were a basic part of one’s, including my own, academic upbringing, sounds at least pathetic, not to call it insolent.

        Further:
        “I am a bad tree, Rom, and I will always give bad fruit and I am a hypocrite, who is trying to first take the plank out of my eye so that I can see before I share something.”

        Do you read your sentences before posting them? You are not just confusing, you truly seem confused…

        And finally, I was visiting your site because of your polemics with Makagutu and Archeopteryx, placing you in my reader for convenience (which I have removed today…)
        Don’t worry, except if I am forced to reply to some of your “last word’s charge” attempts to avoid replying to what matters, I have no reason to return.

        And again, please don’t forget to list your completed, earned and awarded credentials on your site, just to make sure you are entitled to what you expect from others.

        • Rom I am sad that you removed my blog. Please do know I did not mean ill taking a stand on not accepting Wikipedia as a citation source.

          When I talk about academia, I mean what is acceptable in University or published journals.

          Rom, I will keep following your blog and reading it because I get challenged by people holding a different views than mine.

          Cheers Rom and know you are always welcome here.

          – Prayson

  10. “There are few pillars in Christian Church history that can tower one of the finest North African’s Latin theologian and apologist Tertullian” ????????????????????????

    <>

    I’m glad I don’t have to have written this for one of my dear wife’s flower baskets…

    Yeah, I know, this is not about the “trinity”, but why would anyone care about the philosophical gymnastics of one of christianity’s most confused and confusing theologians?
    The above is just and example of Tertullian’s “gems”… During my studies, our professors always warned us about Tertulliian’s lack of general credibility because of his overall problems…

    Nota bene:

    New International Version (©1984) Lk. 6:43
    “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.

    Luke 6:42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”

    My friend, Tertullian seem to have had quite a plank load in both his eyes, some even deep in his mind…

    • Something’s wrong…
      From my previous reply is completely missing the quote which should be between the signs…
      Here is it:

      “‘De Cultu Feminarum,’ section I.I, part 2 (trans. C.W. Marx): “Do you not know that you are Eve? The judgment of God upon this sex lives on in this age; therefore, necessarily the guilt should live on also. You are the gateway of the devil; you are the one who unseals the curse of that tree, and you are the first one to turn your back on the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the devil was not capable of corrupting; you easily destroyed the image of God, Adam. Because of what you deserve, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die.”

      Tertullian wrote in his book On Patience 5:15 “Having been made pregnant by the seed of the devil … she brought forth a son.” Or, in a different translation, “For straightway that impatience conceived of the devil’s seed, produced, in the fecundity of malice, anger as her son; and when brought forth, trained him in her own arts.””

      I hope It’ll show…

      • I do not agree with Tertullian in some Christian ethics and practice. His view of marriage and remarriage for example in Ad uxorem and De monogamia. But these views, which he wrote when he joined Montanism sect, should not overshadow his robust defense of the nature of God, the two nature of Christ in one person, and so on.

        We have to remember that Tertullian, as Apostle Peter,King David, Abraham, were ordinary humans prone to errors.

        I would commend you to read De carne Christi, Adversus Praxean, Apologeticum and De resurrection carnis. This books made me join some historians and theologians who view Tertullian as a tower and the father of Western Theology.

  11. We may not have written proof, but this may be one of the reasons why John wrote his Gospel relatively late, probably after persuasion by early christians, to give support not only for the diety of Christ but to give support for the doctrine of the Trinity.

    • Thank you for your input. I think that is unlikely because some of these early Christians writers quoted the gospel of John. This is one of the reason that the Gospel of John is place between ca. 80- ca. 100 A.D.

  12. Yes, I knew “that the doctrine of one God in three persons was taught by early Christians,” and in fact it was a matter of major debate.

    Thanks for dealing with such a complicated issue, in particular as it relates to the “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” in a brief article, which is not always to do, Prayson!

    • Thanks Don.

      I am not sure that it was a matter of major debate until the era Arianism in ca. 300 A.D. If you read Christianity between ca. 30-300 A.D. you will find no major debate on the deity of Christ nor the nature of Trinity. If you remove Ebonites who rejected Jesus’ deity, I do not know of any other group, until Arianians.

      Let me know your thoughts Don.

      • Yes. I knew. But you should have been a little more honest with your question and said ‘ ..taught by SOME early Christians’, as there were plenty that were vehemently opposed.

        Really? No debate? Smile..well if you say so.
        However, history suggests it took several centuries to sort out.

        http://attaleuntold.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/i-dont-care-one-iota/

        And there were others besides Arius who didn’t agreee with the concept of Trinity even after the Council of Nicea.

        If Trinity was that cut and dried there would have been no need to declare all opposing beliefs heretical, now would there?

      • Thanks Artkenaten. I am not sure that there were plenty that were vehemently opposed God in three persons.(Remember Ebonites, reject not only the deity of Christ but also the writings of Paul). So if you know something that I do not know, please do direct me to historical data that I might have missed between ca. 30 – 300 A.D.

        You are correct that the doctrine was fully formulated at Council of Constantinople 381 A.D. but the view that the Father is God, the Son is God and Holy Spirit is God, yet there is one and only God, was known and taught from the genesis of Christianity ca. A.D. 30.

        I am not interested with History after 300 A.D. at this point, though I am curious, which group apart from Arianians did not agree with Trinity?

      • “I am not interested with History after 300 A.D. at this point, though I am curious, which group apart from Arianians did not agree with Trinity?”

        Rather than get tied up in one of famous mini semantic debates, best you go look for yourself. Start with wiki…

        • :) I don’t do Wiki, sorry. Could you direct me to scholarly works, journals, books? Or just give me a group name apart from Arians that rejected trinity after 351 A.D. In academia Wiki is not a trusted source. I

      • You are correct on the dates, but I am including those types of dates in my comments, because it shows that many centuries ago the trinity was accepted, and then some people started objecting, contrary to what the “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” teach and believe.

      • Oh, and for what it’s worth, none of these people, Tertullian etc, were Christians. They were apologists for the Catholic church for the most part.

        The bible does not teach the trinity nor did the early Christians preach it. And remember the Comma Johanneum.

        • I hope you are not mixing catholic(universe) Christianity with Catholicism. Remember Rome’ Catholicism was not around that time.

          Could you defend your case that the Bible does not teach the doctrine of trinity?

        • Well I am curious person, so even though I am interested in History before 300, when someone claim something I am not familiar with nor have come across in my studies nor in my preparation(I teach Church History), then I want to know?

          Could you be kind to name a group Arkenaten, that is not Arianian that you claimed did not accept trinity? I will do the research,but I need a name Arkenaten.

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