Who Is “the Only True God”?
JESUS often prayed to God, whom he called Father, and he also taught others to do so. (Matthew 6:9-11; Luke 11:1, 2) In prayer with his apostles—only hours before his death—Jesus petitioned: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your son, that your son may glorify you. This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”—John 17:1, 3.
Notice that 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”? Let us examine this matter.
Jesus’ Position in Heaven
A few hours after this prayer, Jesus was executed. But he was not dead for long—only from Friday afternoon till Sunday morning. (Matthew 27:57–28:6) “This Jesus God resurrected,” the apostle Peter reports, “of which fact we are all witnesses.” (Acts 2:31, 32) Could Jesus have resurrected himself? No, according to the Bible, the dead “are conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) “The only true God,” Jesus’ heavenly Father, resurrected his Son.—Acts 2:32; 10:40.
A short time afterward, Jesus’ disciple Stephen was killed by religious persecutors. As they were about to stone him, Stephen was granted a vision. He stated: “Look! I behold the heavens opened up and the Son of man standing at God’s right hand.” (Acts 7:56) Jesus, “the Son of man,” was thus seen by Stephen in a role supportive to God in heaven—“at God’s right hand”—even as he had been ‘alongside God’ before he came to earth.—John 17:5.
Later, after Stephen’s execution, Jesus made a miraculous appearance to Saul, better known by his Roman name, Paul. (Acts 9:3-6) When Paul was in Athens, Greece, he spoke of “the God that made the world and all the things in it.” He said that this God, the “only true God,” will “judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him from the dead.” (Acts 17:24, 31) Here the apostle Paul described Jesus as “a man”—yes, lesser than God—whom God had restored to life in heaven.
The apostle John too described Jesus as subordinate to God. John said that he had written his Gospel so that readers might come to believe that “Jesus is the Christ the Son of God”—not that he was God. (John 20:31) John also received a heavenly vision in which he saw “the Lamb,” who in his Gospel is identified as Jesus. (John 1:29) The Lamb is standing with 144,000 others, who John says “have been bought [or resurrected] from the earth.” John explains that the 144,000 have the Lamb’s “name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.”—Revelation 14:1, 3.
Could “the Lamb” be the same as “his Father”? Clearly not. In the Bible they are distinct. They even have different names.
Name of the Lamb and of the Father
As we have just seen, the name given to God’s Son, the Lamb, is Jesus. (Luke 1:30-32) What about his Father’s name? It appears in the Bible thousands of times. For example, Psalm 83:18 says: “You, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” Sadly, God’s name, Jehovah, has been replaced in many Bible translations by the terms “LORD” and “GOD,” often spelled in all capital letters. The capitals are supposed to distinguish Jehovah from others called gods or lords.* Yet, in many Bible translations, the Divine Name has been restored to its rightful place.
The English-language American Standard Version (1901) is a notable example of a Bible translation that has restored God’s name, Jehovah, to its rightful place. Its preface observes: “The American Revisers, after a careful consideration, were brought to the unanimous conviction that a Jewish superstition, which regarded the Divine Name as too sacred to be uttered, ought no longer to dominate in the English or any other version of the Old Testament, as it fortunately does not in the numerous versions made by modern missionaries.”*
The Trinity—Whose Teaching?
What, then, about the teaching that Jehovah and Jesus are, in effect, the same God, as the Trinity doctrine proclaims? In its issue of April-June 1999, The Living Pulpit magazine defined the Trinity this way: “There is one God and Father, one Lord Jesus Christ, and one Holy Spirit, three ‘persons’ . . . who are the same or one in essence . . . ; three persons equally God, possessing the same natural properties, yet really distinct, known by their personal characteristics.”*
Where did this complex Trinity teaching originate? The Christian Century, in its May 20-27, 1998, issue, quotes a pastor who acknowledges that the Trinity is “a teaching of the church rather than a teaching of Jesus.” Even though the Trinity is not a teaching of Jesus, is it consistent with what he taught?
The Father—Superior to the Son
Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Our heavenly Father, whose name is Jehovah, is described in the Bible as being superior to his Son. For example, Jehovah is “from everlasting to everlasting.” But the Bible says that Jesus is “the firstborn of every creature.” That Jehovah is greater than Jesus, Jesus himself taught when he said: “My Father is greater than I.” (Matthew 6:9; Psalm 90:1, 2; Colossians 1:15; John 14:28, King James Version) Yet, the Trinity doctrine holds that the Father and the Son are “equally God.”
The Father’s superiority over the Son, as well as the fact that the Father is a separate person, is highlighted also in the prayers of Jesus, such as the one before his execution: “Father, if you wish, remove this cup [that is, an ignominious death] from me. Nevertheless, let, not my will, but yours take place.” (Luke 22:42) If God and Jesus are “one in essence,” as the Trinity doctrine says, how could Jesus’ will, or wish, seem different from that of his Father?—Hebrews 5:7, 8; 9:24.
Furthermore, if Jehovah and Jesus were the same, how could one of them be aware of things of which the other was not? Jesus, for instance, said regarding the time of the world’s judgment: “Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father.”—Mark 13:32.
The Trinity and the Church
The Trinity is not a teaching of Jesus or of the early Christians. As noted previously, it is “a teaching of the church.” In its 1999 issue on the Trinity, The Living Pulpit observed: “Sometimes, it seems that everyone assumes that the doctrine of the trinity is standard Christian theological fare,” but it added that it is not “a biblical idea.”
The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) discusses the Trinity at length and admits: “The Trinitarian dogma is in the last analysis a late 4th-century invention. . . . The formulation ‘one God in three Persons’ was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century.”
Martin Werner, as professor at the University of Bern, Switzerland, observed: “Wherever in the New Testament the relationship of Jesus to God, the Father, is brought into consideration, whether with reference to his appearance as a man or to his Messianic status, it is conceived of and represented categorically as subordination.” Clearly, what Jesus and the early Christians believed is far different from the Trinity teaching of churches today. From where, then, did this teaching come?
The Trinity’s Early Origins
The Bible tells of many gods and goddesses that people worshiped, including Ashtoreth, Milcom, Chemosh, and Molech. (1 Kings 11:1, 2, 5, 7) Even many people in the ancient nation of Israel once believed that Baal was the true God. So Jehovah’s prophet Elijah presented the challenge: “If Jehovah is the true God, go following him; but if Baal is, go following him.”—1 Kings 18:21.
The worship of pagan gods grouped in threes, or triads, was also common before Jesus was born. “From Egypt came the ideas of a divine trinity,” observed historian Will Durant. In the Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, James Hastings wrote: “In Indian religion, e.g., we meet with the trinitarian group of Brahmā, Siva, and Viṣṇu; and in Egyptian religion with the trinitarian group of Osiris, Isis, and Horus.”
So there are many gods. Did early Christians acknowledge this? And did they view Jesus as Almighty God?
See the article “Should We Use God’s Name?” on page 31 of this magazine.
The Athanasian Creed, formulated a few hundred years after the death of Jesus, defined the Trinity this way: “The Father is God: the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods: but one God.”
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Triad of Horus, Osiris, and Isis, second millennium B.C.E.
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Triad of moon god, Lord of Heavens, and sun god, c. first century C.E.
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Triune Hindu godhead, c. seventh century C.E.
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Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), c. 13th century C.E.
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Top two photos: Musée du Louvre, Paris