A Logical Fallacy in the Watchtower’s View of John 13:7?

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
(John 17:3 ESV)

Introduction

I recently ran across an argument against the Jehovah’s Witness explanation of John 17:3, which is one of their primary proof texts used to attack the doctrine of the Trinity. Here the JW’s argue that since The Father is said by Jesus to be the only True God, then Jesus cannot also be the True God. The counter-argument is given as follows:

In fact, the entire argument that Jesus cannot be the true God based on John 17:3 is an example of a logical fallacy known as “denying the antecedent.”  To illustrate this point, let’s rephrase John 17:3b in the form of a logical proposition: “If one is the Father, one is the only true God.”

“If one is the Father” is the antecedent of the proposition.  “One is the only true God” is the consequent.  In the terms of formal logic, it is not logically valid to deny the antecedent, and conclude that the consequent is also denied. . . .

From the standpoint of pure logic, then, it is not valid to argue that because Jesus is not the Father (denying the antecedent in our paraphrased proposition) He cannot be the only true God.  Being the Father is sufficient cause for being the only true God; however, being the only true God is not a necessary cause for being the Father.

While I agree with the conclusion, there are a few problems here that could be exploited by one familiar with logic.

Problem 1: Stating The Argument

First, contrary to his stated intention, the above author is not translating the verse into logical language—rather, he is attempting to translate the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ argument concerning the verse. Now, the JW’s argument is basically that since The Father is the only True God, then Jesus (who is not The Father) is not the True God. The Watchtower puts it this way:

“Jesus prays to One whom he calls ‘the only true God.’ He points to God’s superior position when he continues: ‘So now you, Father, glorify me alongside yourself with the glory that I had alongside you before the world was.’ (John 17:5) Since Jesus prayed to God requesting to be alongside God, how could Jesus at the same time be ‘the only true God’?”

The argument, therefore, focuses on the fact that Jesus and The Father are distinct in some way – not necessary or sufficient conditions (note: not “causes”) for Godhood.

Problem 2: Proposition Translation

The second problem is that there is more than one way to logically translate this argument. For if there is only one God (which JW’s believe) and only one who is The Father (which JW’s believe), then being God and being The Father could be seen as necessary and sufficient conditions for one another. Since hypothetical propositions express the relationship between necessary and sufficient conditions, the phrase “If one is the Father, one is the only true God” works—but so would “If one is the only true God then one is the Father,” or even, “If and only if one is the only true God then one is the Father.” In either of these alternative cases the fallacy is avoided.

Problem 3: Argument Translation

The third issue concerns the fact that not only is there more than one way to logically translate this premise, there is more than one logic that can be used to translate it. When one is dealing with relations that obtain between propositions, then propositional logic (the kind employed by the above author) is appropriate. So, for example, the premise “If you clean your room then you can go to the party” expresses necessary and sufficient relations between the propositions “you clean your room” and “you go to the party.” So something like “If C then P” would be appropriate here.

However, arguments dealing with single terms in categorical relations to one another are best translated using categorical logic. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not seem to be claiming that being The Father is a necessary and sufficient condition for being the True God (in fact, I’d be surprised to ever hear a JW use such language!). Rather, they are simply saying that only The Father is in the category of the True God. Thus, something along the lines of “Since The Father is the only true God, and Jesus is not The Father, Jesus is not the true God” would be more appropriate. If nothing else, it is at least a possible interpretation—and when dealing with the arguments of others, the rule of charity says to choose the strongest possibility.

Now, in categorical logic the word “only” is a universal predicate indicator (e.g., the proposition “Only dogs make good pets” translates into “All good pets are dogs”). However, the phrase “the only” indicates a universal subject (e.g., the proposition “The only good pet is a dog” would also translate into “All good pets are dogs”).  Further, classes of one are considered to be universal singulars (e.g., “Doug Beaumont” would translate into “All things which are Doug Beaumont”). So, to get it into a form that can be more easily evaluated, we have the following:

1. All things which are the True God are things which are The Father.
2. No thing which is Jesus is The Father.
3. Therefore, no thing which is Jesus is the True God.

Evaluation of the Argument

Is this argument logically valid? Since it is a standard form three-term categorical syllogism, we need only ask three questions: (1) Do the number of negative propositions in the premises equal the number of those in the conclusion? Yes – there is one negative premise and the conclusion is negative. (2)  Is the middle term distributed? Yes – “The Father” is distributed in premise two. (3)  Are all distributed terms in the conclusion also distributed in the premises? Yes – “the True God” is distributed in premise one, and “Jesus” is distributed in premise two. For those who doubt my fantastic three-step categorical syllogism test, or who like pictures, here’s the Venn Diagram:

So, yes—the argument is formally valid.

Conclusion

Now, before anyone goes running to join the local Kingdom Hall, there are problems with the argument. Validity is only the first test for an argument’s worth. Soundness requires both that the argument be formally correct and that the premises be true. Here the argument fails in two ways.

First, the major premise begs the question. Whether or not more than one person can be the True God is the very issue at stake, so it cannot simply be sneaked into the premises as proof for the conclusion. While not a strictly logical fallacy, this informal fallacy destroys the entire worth of the argument (e.g., “Star Wars is the best movie ever because no movie is better” is a valid argument, but it clearly is not useful in a real debate for the conclusion simply restates the premise).

Second, the copula (“is”) introduces a philosophical problem: are we talking about the person or the essence of The Father / True God when we say what Jesus “is”? Jesus not being the same person as the Father does not exclude him being the same essence as The Father–namely, that of the True God. This, of course, is precisely what orthodox Christianity asserts. JW’s seize on their own misunderstanding of the person / essence distinction to make their argument appear sound, when in fact their argument relies on the very confusion declared heretical by orthodox Christianity (cf. The Definition of Chalcedon below).

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, . . . consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; . . . to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union,

About these ads

13 thoughts on “A Logical Fallacy in the Watchtower’s View of John 13:7?

  1. The “Essence” of The Only True God
    ——————————————-
    The trinity teaches that God asked himself to go to earth to save mankind.
    Then he agreed with himself and volunteered himself to himself to offer himself.
    Then God impregnated a woman as himself, with himself.
    God prayed to himself and glorified himself repeatedly.
    God strengthened himself and talked to himself.
    Finally God forsook himself and sacrificed himself to prove his loyalty to himself.
    While dead he resurrected himself so he could exalt himself above himself.
    Then he sat at his own right hand and waited till he placed his enemies as a footstool
    Finally with Satan’s forces defeated God would turn his kingdom over to himself
    That all things would become everything to himself.

  2. Thank you, this is a perfect example of the confusion the JW’s have. If you are interested in what the Trinity doctrine actually teaches, you could start with Augustine’s De Trinitate. Nothing’s changed much in the 1,600 years since he wrote it (except the academic level of heretical critics).

  3. Doug, I think your interpretation of their argument is not only charitable but correct. This is a very good example of charity with viewpoints not your own.

  4. Hello Doug,

    Clarify a couple of things for me. According to John 17:3, do you agree or disagree with: “Being the Father is sufficient cause for being the only true God; however, being the only true God is not a necessary cause for being the Father”? Do you agree or disagree with the JW’s belief that “If one is the Father, then one is the only true God” and “If one is the only true God, then one is the Father”?

    Thanks.

  5. I do not agree with the first statement because it comits a category mistake: confusing cause and condition. I don’t know what a “sufficient cause” even is!
    Your second question is complex – you are asking two in one. To clarify for you, it is true that “If one is the Father, then one is the only true God.” It is not true, however, that “If one is the only true God, then one is the Father.” Because there are three distinct persons who are each the true God, simply knowing that a person is the true God does not also identify which person it is.

  6. What you seem to be suggesting is that the author had misidentified what the actual problem is within the JW’s argument.

    The argument itself (independent of the correct logical translation of John 17:3) does not commit the formal fallacy of Denying the Antecedent: (1) if the Father and the only true God are identical in terms of person and essence, and (2) the Father is not Jesus, then (3) Jesus is not in the category “the only true God.”

    The actual problem is an informal fallacy (rather than a formal one), namely, the argument begs the question in favor of the JW’s Unitarian view of God (and this can be seen using a categorical syllogism). Is this correct?

  7. The JW do not accomadate the plain meaning of John chapter 1, vs. 1-14 and many other categorical statements of scripture.

    A categorical statement is not subject to debate or logical analysis. The JW folk are not as they are because they use faulty logic. They do not believe the word of God. Their minds are carnal and war against God. They are not subject to the Torah of God, and neither indeed can be. They are not regenerate, thus cannot comprehend spiritual things.

    Those who make a haShem for themselves are likely to be found in the slime pits of Shinar. Those who do not have the Son, also do not have the Father.

    Just as with LDS folk, logic does not move them. They are not “captured” by faulty logic but by Satan. Try moving him with logic! It is not “logical” to gaze upon the hammered-flat brass naachash, but believing in the anti-type is saving.

    I do not intend rudeness here. Pray for them, pray for them again, petition God for their salvation – then tell them the Truth, that is the simplicity of the Good News of God concerning His son Christ Jesus, Adonai.

    By the way, if you chat the world up about logic and philosophy, they will love it and likely you. However, if you tell them the Truth – in all its simplicity – most will hate you. But, later on, God may quicken their spirit that they may believe, the seed bearing fruit.

    The JW use a perverted, distorted, incorrect version of the scriptures. That is always the departure point – not logic.

    “Hath God said…” the homonym of arum purrs -. And the Lord replied, “It is written…”

    It is ever a queston of life and light – not logic. The issue is unbelief. They mimic in a coarser fashion the unbelief of a Jefferson, who made a haShem for himself – and gloried in it.

    The internal test of sonship – are we Christian – is the receipt of the Spirit of Adoption, whereby the Spirit of Christ cries through us, “Abba, Father”. Thank god there are no formal logic prerequisites.The outward confession of others is the a means by which we assess generally who is Christian – that is, a verbal confession that declares that Jesus is God (Kurios/Adonai) and the stated belief that God has raised Him from the dead. Those who make such confession can be wrong about nearly everything else, as they are but babes.

    Since the JW folk have trashed “It is written…” for what they prefer, logic is mooted.

    God saves even logicians and Philosophers – infrequently perhaps – but as E. Cassirer recounted, he read the Greek NT text and percieved that it was Truth – and believed unto salvation. The Good News of God is the power of God unto salvation.

    When Satan cannot bury the Truth in a language “not of the people” as the RC hierarchy did for centuries and the Anglican hierarchy did for a lesser period, he then recasts it in subtile distortion, achieving an equal effect. The people are yet denied the “It is written…” of God.

    I apologize for the redundancy.

  8. One only has to read through the book of The Acts of The Apostles to realize that the “trinity” was never preached or taught by the apostles. Acts shows how they viewed God as God and Christ as the Messiah. Look at every gospel preached in Acts which goes from Peter’s first speaking to Paul being sent to Rome. No such preaching or teaching.

    Ps—I am not a JW

    Boxjobox

  9. The apostle Paul also confirms the Father as the One God in 1Cor., 1Tim, and Eph. In 1Cor., in dealing with idols-which would have been an excellent opportunity to explain a trinity, if this was the case, Paul clearly states “one God the Father”. Adding a trinity teaching to the christian faith supersedes the scripture, and makes man’s doctrines more important than the work of the Spirit. Luke, for instance, in his gospel to Theopolus presents the things commonly believed, yet makes no mention of a trinity. If this was the common belief, where did the believers pick it up? It was not taught or preached in the scriptural account. By bringing in such a teaching, you are saying the scriptures are incomplete!!!

  10. Once again, nothing you have said contradicts the doctrine of the Trinity. Citing verses that lend support to neither view won’t get you anywhere. Further, this article primarily concerned whether or not Jesus Christ is God and not the whole trinitarian doctrine. John 1, Col. 1, Rev. 1, Heb. 1 – these chapters alone prove that Jesus is the creator and therefore God (unless you think there is more than one God). There is 2,000 years of additional orthodox teaching that can be referenced in case the plain statements of Scripture are not enough for you, so I am not going to waste time debating it here. Finally, I am not saying the Scripture is incomplete – where did you get such an idea? Not from anything I wrote. The only insufficiency exhibited here is your ability to properly understand it. If you claim to be a Christian but deny that Jesus Christ is God then you are a heretic. That has been the consistent teaching of the Church since before the biblical canon was even solidified. Neither the Scriptures nor the Church agree with you, thus you have zero ground to stand upon here – at least none that matters.

  11. To question my standing as a christian based on a belief that. Jesus is God, would be to error. Three out of 4 of the gosples make no reference to such, and in the 4th, Jesus makes an absolute statement about eternal life and the true God, which contradicts your premise. ( John 17.3), which for some reason you seem to want to redevelope into a different than common english understanding, and obviously because it does not support your Jesus is god viewpoint.
    Once again, lots of people are saved in Acts and the church is built up w/o a Jesus is god gospel. Hebrews 1 says God your God, which weakens your argument. God has a God???
    Consider 1Cor 15 where Paul gives us his gospel—no Jesus is God there, in fact Paul makes the exact statement about God and Christ.

    Concerning church history, consider the difference between the apostle’s creed and the Nicine creed to see that your statement concerning early church history backs your premise.

    And Paul in Romans does not present a Jesus is God argument.

    Finally, Revelations starts with The Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him….

    Your statements lack support.

    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

  12. John 17:3 alone, of course, could be deemed tautologous. But with the support of other pertinent verses like Mark 10:18, Malachi 2:10, I Cor. 8:14-16, the Bible is clear that Jesus is not God. The ‘person’ and ‘essence’ principles are as man-made as the man-invented doctrine called Trinity they aim to corroborate. To support Trinity with those terminologies seems to be begging the question

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s