Part 8: Exposing Watchtower misquotes of Irenaeus & Tertullian

I will continue to post quotes from the Watchtower booklet “Should You Believe in the Trinity?”

Irenaeus, who died about 200 C.E., said that the prehuman Jesus had a separate existence from God and was inferior to him. He showed that Jesus is not equal to the “One true and only God,” who is “supreme over all, and besides whom there is no other.”

Again the Watchtower Organization takes the author out of context.  Here Irenaeus was contrasting the “one true and only God” with the lesser gods of Gnosticism (heretical beliefs primarily of the 2nd and 3rd centuries).  He was not denying Jesus is God.

Many instances can be found where Irenaeus affirmed Jesus as God.  He writes, “For I have shown from the Scriptures, that not one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord.  But that He [Jesus] is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets…”[1]  Later in this work he says, “…and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father…”[2]   Notice when the Watchtower booklet says Irenaeus stated Jesus was inferior to God, it was not a quote but a conclusion reached by the Watchtower Organization.  Since Irenaeus believed Jesus to be God, he never would have ontologically (being or nature) called Jesus inferior to the Father.

The doctrine of the Trinity was not fully expressed by Irenaeus but we do see this early church father taught Trinitarian principles.  Proclaiming the Father as God and Jesus as God and yet there is only one God, points in the direction of the formal development of the doctrine of the Trinity.

English: Tertullian, christian church father. ...

Tertullian, christian church father. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will now move to Tertullian ((c. 160 – c. 225 AD).  He is recognized as the one who coined the term “Trinity.”  Here is what the Watchtower booklet says about him:

     “Tertullian, who died about 230 C.E., taught the supremacy of God. He observed: ‘The Father is different from the Son (another), as he is greater; as he who begets is different from him who is begotten; he who sends, different from him who is sent.' He also said: ‘There was a time when the Son was not. . . . Before all things, God was alone.'”

Christian scholar Robert Bowman[3] writes:

Tertullian not only believed in the Trinity, he formulated the basic terminology used in formal expressions of the doctrine.  The word Trinity, as well as the distinction between “one God” and “three persons,” was first developed by Tertullian.  He wrote explicitly of “a trinity of one divinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”[4]

The JW booklet cites Tertullian as saying, “The Father is different from the Son (another), as he is greater; as he who begets is different from his who is begotten; he who sends different from he who is sent” (pg. 7).  This is classic Trinitarianism.  Tertullian’s point was that the Father and the Son were distinct persons.  As was pointed out in our discussion of the meaning of the Trinity, JWs commonly misunderstand the Trinity to teach that the Father is the Son.

The booklet also quotes Tertullian as saying, “There was a time when the Son was not… Before all things, God was alone.”  Actually, the expression “there was a time when the Son was not” was not used by Tertullian himself.  Rather, this was an expression used by a modern scholar to summarize a statement made by Tertullian, who argued that God was always God, but not always Father of the Son: “For He could not have been the Father previous to the son, not a judge previous to sin.”[5]  Since elsewhere Tertullian makes clear that he regards the person of the Son as eternal, in this statement Tertullian is probably asserting that the title of “Son” did not apply to the second person of the Trinity until he began to relate to the “Father” as a “Son” in the work of creation.[6]

Anyone reading the writings of Tertullian from source materials will get a vastly differently understanding of who he is in comparison to what the Watchtower portrays.  Was the Watchtower honest in their representation of Tertullian?  Did they follow their standards for quoting an author?  Any objective reader will conclude the Watchtower totally misrepresents the writings Tertullian.

Go to part 9 here


[1] Irenaeus, Irenaeus Against Heresies, Chapt. 10.1

[2] Ibid Chapt. 19.2

[3] Bowman, Robert, Why You Should Believe in the Trinity, Baker Book House Publ. March 1992, p. 30, 31

[4] Tertullian, De Pudicitia 21, cited in Fortman, The Triune God p. 112

[5] Tertullian, Against Hermongenes 3, in ANF, 3:478.

[6] “Elucidations,” in ANF, 3:629-30.

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Do Objective Morals Exist?
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Exposing the Deceit of the Watchtower Organization
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