I believe that as Trinitarians, we need to be precise with our language and one area that gets us in hang-ups a lot is that other people don’t understand the language that we use. It often leads to fallacies of equivocation. Now I don’t believe this is our fault individually. I do believe the church as a whole has some blame for not even articulating its positions enough and not being a witness to the world. I believe those of us though who have studied the Trinity cannot be held responsible if those we are arguing with on the doctrine have not and yet still wish to argue against that which they do not understand?
One I’d like to speak on tonight is when we say Jesus is God. So often when we get into arguments with Jehovah’s Witnesses, we will be arguing that Jesus is God. If you’re arguing for the content of that belief, that’s fine. If you use those words, you are only making the problem worse. Here’s why:
When you meet a Jehovah’s Witness, they think of God as Jehovah, the Father. When you say Jesus is God, they do not understand you to be meaning the second person of the Trinity. Instead, they understand you to be saying that you believe Jesus is God the Father, making you a modalist.
A number of people have gone after the Trinity using a syllogism and if you’re not prepared in Trinitarian thought, it really can throw you and if you are thrown by this, you might really want to look and see how well you know the Trinity.
Jesus is God.
God is a Trinity.
Jesus is a Trinity.
The problem is equivocation. When we say Jesus is God, we are using theological shorthand. It’s just a whole lot easier to say “Jesus is God” than to quote the Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian creeds all the time. We are assuming that most people understand that we have a Trinitarian framework in mind and that we are saying that Jesus is a person who fully partakes of the nature of God.
We are talking about the Godhead in the second premise. We are talking about a nature in the first. The terms are not being used the same way and at that point, the syllogism breaks down. That is essential in dismantling a syllogism. It must be shown that either one of the premises is false or that there is some fallacy and in this case, we have a fallacy.
This is also why I say that when we talk about the Trinity, we absolutely must define our terms. (Actually, that’s what we must do when we talk about anything.) The cultists that come to our door are too valuable for us to use bad terminology on. It’s not enough that we understand what we are saying, it must be that our opponents do as well.
Thus, when you debate the Anti-Trinitarian, watch for equivocating. Make sure they are not using the terms falsely and it’s okay to ask “What do you mean by that?” In fact, I would encourage you to do so. It could help you to stop a false presupposition at the start instead of having to deal with it after much time of argument.