Platonism and the Trinity

Welcome everyone to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We’ve been going through the Watchtower booklet called “Should You Believe In The Trinity?” and looking at the question of how the Trinity developed according to the Watchtower. Tonight, we’re going to be looking at the influence of Plato on the Trinity.

Something consistent with the Watchtower is that they think a triad is the same as a Trinity. It’s not. The triads have three separate beings, whereas in the Trinity, there is only one being who is revealed in three persons. (I find it extremely important to watch terminology when discussing the Trinity. We do not believe in three beings in one being for instance.)

The New Universal Dictionary is cited saying that the Platonic trinity appears to be what gave birth to the Christian idea. The problem is that for one, the Watchtower does not state what this Platonic trinity is. All that is asserted is that there is one. As for Plato’s God, Plato says very little about him. Timaeus is the dialogue that describes him the most and he is described as a demiurge that works with pre-existing matter.

Second, the Watchtower is citing a possible connection as if it must be actual. For those of us however that like our beliefs backed by evidence, we prefer to see how you get from A to B. It would be good to ask the average Jehovah’s Witness what the Trinity is in Plato and how that became the Christian Trinity.

Third, if we talk about triads, then the Watchtower is just as pagan! The Watchtower has the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as well. True, they’re not a Trinity of course, but they are a triad. By the standards they cite then, they are pagan, unless they want to admit that triads are not a problem and then when they say how the Trinity differs from a triad, we don’t have a problem either.

The Watchtower then says:

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge shows the influence of this Greek philosophy: “The doctrines of the Logos and the Trinity received their shape from Greek Fathers, who . . . were much influenced, directly or indirectly, by the Platonic philosophy . . . That errors and corruptions crept into the Church from this source can not be denied.”

Yet when one goes to Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church” one finds nothing like this. Rather, Schaff says on page 282 that the doctrine arose from a Scriptural basis. On the very next page it says “The Socinian and rationalistic opinion, that the church doctrine of the Trinity sprang from Platonism and Neo-Platonism is radically false.”

Does the average follower of the Watchtower know this? Probably not. We could always say Schaff was wrong in what he said, but we cannot be wrong in that he believed what he said was true.

The next book cited is “The Church of the First Three Centuries” by Alvan Lamson. Again, what we have is an assertion and keep in mind that Lamson was a unitarian. The Watchtower does not mention this. It does not mean he is wrong, but the Watchtower shows no discrimination in sources. The same applies to Andrew Norton cited later also as he was a unitarian.

As for Harnack’s quote, it comes from page 194 of Harnack’s book “Outlines of the History of Dogma.” Unfortunately for the Watchtower, on the page before, Harnack says that the Christian church made no compromises with pagan religion. The doctrine not understood is not the Trinity but the Logos-Christology, which the Watchtower should hold to some form of since they believe that in the beginning was the Logos. There is no doubt Greek thought played some part, but only as an aid in understanding Scripture. It did not in any way act as the source of the doctrine.

We shall conclude this section tomorrow.

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