Part 1: The 6 logical fallacies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses with respect to John 17:3

#1: The informal fallacy of equivocation


            This DDR begins a new series on the nature and importance of logic in Christianity.  We will examine the nature of logic, its biblical basis, and just how important it is in the development of sound doctrine which alone promotes a sound spiritual life and life of the mind.  I will demonstrate just how important logic is by looking at several passages in the Word of God where its crucial role is evident.  We will also take a look at the “irrational grip” of our age (Zeitgeist), both inside the church as well as in society, and just how we got here and what we can do about it.  Some of the material will be difficult, but if you stick with it, it will be worth the effort.  I doubt that this will the most popular DDR series (I think the DDRs on death resonated the most), but if I can instill even a modicum of more appreciation for logic, then I would have met one of my goals.  By the way, did you know that one of the names for Jesus Christ is Logic?  The term in the Greek is logos, the rational or logic principle, but more on that later.  


            As many of you know, I have begun a master’s program in philosophy and apologetics where logic or the lack thereof is constantly scrutinized.  Although I had a good background in my undergraduate work in biblical studies, and excellent training in the biblical languages in my master’s work, I find it odd that logic was not required in any of these disciplines.  This is a bit puzzling, but at any rate I can see why the Lord is moving me into this next field of study of Christian apologetics and philosophy.  It is going to be tough, but again all thinking, at least precise logical thinking is extremely difficult.  It is been said that philosophers earn their truths the hard way: they have to work for each one of them.  From a doctrinal perspective I understand that it is not up to the Christian to work for truth.  Truth is divine revealed.  However, to synthesize those divinely revealed propositions and make valid logical conclusions that fit into a complete comprehensive system of systematic theology, and do it without suffering the pain of contradiction requires nothing short of the arduous and painful work of logic.  Logic is not just  common sense (i.e. feel good, right to me sense), it is an exact or precise sense—which really is the only true sense there is.  I will demonstrate just how necessary and difficult the logical process is in systematizing Truth at a later time.  Let’s move to the logical fallacies of the cult known as the Jehovah’s witnesses, and their “common sense” that leads them to heresy.


            A favorite “proof text” that the Jehovah’s Witnesses use to reject the full deity of Jesus Christ is  John 17:3 "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses seem utterly convinced by their "logic" that Christ’s calling the Father “the only true God” is a clear,  compelling and logical indication  that He is excluding Himself from the category.  Listen to their “common sense” doctrine on this passage (taken from Reasoning from the Scriptures, the Watchtower publication),


            This series on the logical fallacies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are based on Aaron Tuazon Shelenberger's excellent article in Christian Apologetics Journal, Fall 2009.   


            Most translations here use the expression ‘the only true God’ with reference to the Father. The New English Bible (NEB) reads ‘who alone art truly God.’ He cannot be ‘the only true God,’ the one ‘who alone [is] truly 

            God,’ if there are two others who are God to the same degree as he is, can he? 


            Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) argue that since Christ addresses the Father as the only true God, it must follow that, minimally, he is not the only true God.  If they are right then this passage clearly teaches that Christ is somehow less than the only true God.  If the argument obtains, then Jehovah’s Witnesses seem amply justified in its next move, namely, to provide biblical evidence that Christ is sort of an inferior god.   If the argument obtains, then orthodox Christianity is in error, and we are heretics for believing that Christ is fully divine and equal with the Father.


            There are a total of six logical fallacies in their conclusion regarding John 17:3. The first one is known as the informal fallacy of equivocation, also known as the fallacy of ambiguity.   Under the fallacy of equivocation there are other subdivisions like simple equivocation/ambiguity (words are used with more than one meaning), amphibole (grammatical construction is ambiguous), accent (accent can change meaning, i.e. I love you? I love you!), and circumstances (circumstances that change meaning of words, i.e. a person really seeking truth asking, “what is truth,” versus Pilate asking the same question).    


            How do the JWs commit the first logical fallacy of equivocation?  They do this by equivocating the two phrases: “You [Father], the only true God” and “Only you [Father], the true God.  In attempting to justify this, JWs appeal to how the NEB renders John 17:3: “This is eternal life: to know thee who alone art truly God, and Jesus Christ whom tough has sent” (emphasis added).   Their reasoning goes something like this: He cannot be the ‘only true God,’ the one ‘who alone [is] truly God,’ if there are two others who are God to the same degree as he is, can he?  The  hidden equivocation becomes evident when the phrase “the one [Father] who alone [is] truly God” is converted to the sentence “the Father alone [or only the Father] is truly God.  JWs have made a radical change in the wording.  As if the two sentences have similar meaning.  The world order basically went from “the Father is the only true God” to “only the Father is the true God.  But, in fact, they do not mean the same. 


            Note the difference in the two sentences.   Whereas, “only” modifies “true God” in the first statement; it modifies “Father” in the second.   In the first sentence only refers to something that belongs exclusively to the “true God,” that is, in contrast to others which  by nature, are not gods at all.  The second sentence suggests “true God” as belonging to the Father alone and to no one else.  The Greek construction provides more details on this point.   First of all, the adverb “only” (monos) modifies the adjective “true” (alethinos), which further modifies the noun “God” (theos).  “Only” nowhere modifies “Father” (pater).   Had Jesus said, “Only you [Father], the true God,” He would indeed be saying what the Witnesses are saying.  Rather, Jesus said, “you [Father], the only true God.  Again, the two phrases—You [Father], the only true God” and “Only you [Father], the true God”–do not have the same meaning.  Had Jesus said that only the Father was God then the JW would have a point.  The fact that Jesus addresses the Father as “the only true God,” does not logically or necessarily deny that He, the Son, is God as well. 


            Orthodox Christianity affirms that there is one God but that three Persons share in that Godhead.  There are three self-consciousnesses in the one Godhead.  By affirming that God the Father is only true God in no way excludes the other members of the Trinity from being part of the Godhead as well.   If Christ had said that only the Father was God the JWs would be right.   The error of the JWs in this regard is critical.  Had they applied rigorous logic to the passage, they certainly would not be going around using this verse against unsuspecting Christians and confusing them with their equivocation.  As I mentioned, there are six logical fallacies that the JWs commit in regard to John 17:3.  This DDR exposed the first error of equivocation, in the following DDRs we will examine each of the other five.


Christian doctrine matters!