Part 5:  The 6 logical fallacies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses with respect to John 17:3:

The Formal Fallacies


            We are in the midst of studying the six logical fallacies the Jehovah’s Witnesses (J’sW) commit in their own chief “proof text of John 17:3—which they use to deny the full deity of Jesus Christ.  Three are informal: equivocation, begging the question, and undesirable/untenable results.  Three are formal: Illicit Major, Illicit Minor, and Weaker Premise.    Today we take a look at the formal fallacies (this material is taken from Aaron Tuazon Shelenberger's excellent article in Christian Apologetics Journal, Fall 2009). 


            Formal fallacies deal with the form of the logical argument in the syllogism (sil-o-jism).   Syllogism is the basic tool of all deductive logic.  It is rather easy to recognize.  Whenever you see two propositions that have one term in common and are followed by a conclusion (a proposition that might be introduced by hence, therefore, so or thus), that’s a syllogism.   It may not be a good one, but it is a syllogism nonetheless.  Simply put, a syllogism is the format that we use to put the propositions together so we can analyze their relationships to one another to see if they make sense. 


            The most basic kind of syllogism is called a categorical syllogism.  It is called categorical because it is made up of two unconditional premises leading to an unconditional conclusion: in other words, three categorical statements.   The first term is called the major term.  The second term is called the minor term.  Then you have a conclusion based on the relationship between the two premises. 


            There are seven simple rules of the categorical syllogism.  The seven rules and examples below are taken from Norman Geisler’s, Come Let Us Reason, An Introduction to Logical Thinking:


                        (1) There must be only three terms.


Major:                        All inspired writings are included in the Scriptures

Minor:                        Handel was inspired when he wrote the Messiah.

Conclusion:             Therefore, Handel’s Messiah should be included in the Scriptures.


Note the fallacy: a fourth term is smuggled in the syllogism:  the fourth term is added to the middle term as “inspired” here means something different than in the major premise–i.e. fallacy of equivocation.   



                        (2)  The middle term must be distributed at least once.



Major:                        All Baptists are baptized

Minor:                        All Presbyterians are baptized

Conclusion:             Therefore, all Presbyterians are Baptists.


Note the fallacy:   Presbyterians is not distributed in both premises:



                        (3)   Terms distributed in the conclusion must be distributed in the premises. 


Major:                        All Hindus are vegetarians

Minor:                        No Jehovah’s Witness is a Hindu

Conclusion:             Therefore, no Jehovah’s Witness is a vegetarian.



Note the fallacy:  Jehovah’s Witnesses is not distributed in the premises:



                        (4)    The conclusion always follows the weaker premise.


Major:                        No wicked person will escape judgment

Minor:                        Some Americans are wicked

Conclusion:             Therefore, some Americans will not escape judgment.


Note the fallacy:  The chain of an argument is no stronger than its weakest link.  Because the major premise is negative, the conclusion must be negative.  Because the minor premise is particular, the conclusion cannot be universal.



                        (5)   No conclusion follows from two negative premises.


Major:                        No humans are angels

Minor:                        No angels are God.

Conclusion              Therefore, ?.


This is often called the fallacy of “Exclusive Premises” because two negative premises exclude the possibility of any relationship between them.



                        (6)    No conclusion follows from two simple particular premises..


Major:                        Some premillennialists are charismatic.

Minor:                        Some Catholics are charismatic.

Conclusion:             Therefore, some Catholics are premillennialists.


Whether the statement is true or not is beside the point when dealing with formal fallacies.  It is all about the form of the argument where deductive logic gives us necessary conclusions.


                        (7)    No negative conclusion follows from two affirmative premises.


Major:                        All members of the Trinity are fully God.

Minor:                        Some members of the Trinity take order from God the Father (Jn 16:5-7)

Conclusion:             Therefore, not all members of the Trinity are equal to God the           Father.


This argument has been used for ages to show that Christ was not equal with God, but obviously the conclusion does not logically follow.  No negative conclusion can come from affirmative premises.   The logical conclusion is “Some who take orders from the Father are fully God.   They are still God but act in voluntary submission.


            That’s it!   Only seven rules for evaluating all syllogisms.   Now let’s take a look at a sound syllogistic argument that does not violate any of the rules.


Major:                        1.  All men are mortal

Minor:                        2.  Socrates is a man.

Conclusion              3.   Therefore, Socrates is mortal.             


            Now let’s put the Js’W argument in syllogistic form:


Major:                        1.   The Father is the only true God (proper form based on text of Jn 17:3).

Minor:                        2.   The Father (is the one who) sent Christ.

Conclusion:             3.   Therefore, Christ is not the only true God.


            Can you see the fallacies of the argument?  The first premise is based on what the text actually says (not their conversion/corruption of the clause).  The second premise is rather simply and undisputed.    But what about the conclusion?  Does this follow?   There are at least four violations here, Illicit Major, Illicit Minor, Weaker Premise (#4) and #7.  


                        Fallacies of Illicit Major and Illicit Minor.  Note the violation of rule #3 above, terms distributed in the conclusion must be distributed in the premises.   Violating this rule results in the argument’s committing two fallacies: Illicit Major and Illicit Minor.  In Illicit Major the major term “the only true God” is distributed in the conclusion but not the premise.  The proposition “Only the Father is the only true God” is smuggled into the conclusion without at all being established in the premises.   In other words, the Father is not necessarily the only “only true God.” The major premise establishes the Father as in the category “only true God;” however, nowhere does it establish that another member does not belong in the category.  The minor premise merely affirms the fact that the Father sent Christ, and says nothing else.   Hence, the argument is invalid.  Another violation in this areas of terms distributed is called Illicit Minor.    The minor term “Christ” is distributed in the conclusion but not in the premise.   Similar to the previous case, the argument is claiming more in the conclusion that it has in its premises.   The premises merely establish that the Father is in two categories, namely, “only true God” and “one who sent Jesus Christ.” They do not even come near to disqualifying any other member as the one true God, as the conclusion purports it to be.


                        Fallacy of Weaker Premise (#4) and #7.  In #4 if both premises are positive, then the weakest possible conclusion is still positive. In #7 above, no negative conclusion follows from affirmative premises.    There is just no way to sneak a negative conclusion if it wasn’t there in the premises.  Both the major and minor premises have positive quality, and the least one can get from them is positive.   The negative conclusion cannot be drawn from the premises.  Hence, the argument is invalid and no confidence can be reposed form the truth of the conclusion.


            The J’sW might attempt to reconstruct the syllogism to look something like:


Major:                        The Father is the only true God.

Minor:                        Christ is not the Father.

Conclusion:             Therefore, Christ is not the only true God.


            This argument does not commit Illicit Minor, since the minor term “Christ” is distributed both in the premise and in the conclusion.   But it does commit Illicit Major, since the major term is distributed in the conclusion but not in the major premise.   The conclusion is claiming more than what the premises establish.   Again, the proposition “Only the Father is the only true God” cannot legitimately be drawn from the available premises and be forced into the conclusion.   For the major premise merely establishes that the Father is called the “only true God”; it does not disqualify any other entity as a member in the class.   The minor premise establishes that Christ is not classed with “Father” and vice-versa, so that the subject and the predicate are interchangeable.  Hence, the second form of the argument does not obtain what it claims due to its being invalid and the fact that the conclusion cannot be ascertained to be true based on the given premises.  


            While on a technical level the formal fallacies in and of themselves do not in any way touch on the truth of an argument, they do establish sound principles for necessary conclusions.  Again and again we see that the arguments by J’sW are unsound and unsuccessful.   The bottom line here is that on the basis of pure logic, according to the principles of informal and formal logic, the Watchtower (publication of the J’sW) has not been able to prove that “Only the Father is the only true God.  John 17:3 has become a favorite verse of J’sW and other groups who deny the deity of Jesus Christ.  These detractors seem to think that the verse is a liability to orthodoxy.  Quite the contrary, it serves as an asset to the Trinity.  For the verse affirms the doctrine in part:  there is but one God, which affirms biblical monotheism; the Father is called God; and the Father and the Son are two separate persons, which denies heretical Modalism (i.e. that the Father are Son are just different roles played by the same person).   No one is saying that John 17:3 fully establishes the orthodox view.  To successfully establish any argument, the whole counsel of God, the Bible must be taken into consideration.  The point here is that when a J’sW “hits” us with John 17:3 we do not have to run to other verses “to pit” one passage against another one.  We can show them that their chief passage does not teach what they are saying.  Then after destroying their foundation passage, we can go to many other passages which declare in no uncertain terms the full deity of Jesus Christ and His equality with God the Father.


              Isaiah 9:6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternal Life, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.


            John 10:30 "I and the Father are one."


              2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,


Christian doctrine matters!    


Pastor Don