Is the Word "Mystery" a Convenient
‘Get Out Clause’ for the Doctrine of the Trinity?

© Spotlight Ministries, Vincent McCann, 2003

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Jehovah's Witnesses, like many non-Trinitarian groups, often criticize the Christian doctrine of the Trinity because it is difficult to understand. Often, non-Trinitarian groups specifically deride the use of the word "mystery" when it is used of the Trinity. A Watchtower source states:

"If you ask a teacher of the trinity doctrine to explain it, he invariably answers: "That is a mystery which you cannot understand."" (Riches, p. 185.)

Similarly, another Watchtower source says:

"...they [the Church Fathers] had to admit that "the conception of a triune God is a mystery which cannot be solved by human reason." (Mankind's Search for God, p. 264).

However, the Watchtower certainly practice double standards in their rejection of the Trinity on the grounds that it is beyond human reasoning. An example of this is seen in the Watchtower’s book Aid to Bible Understanding where it states:

"The true God is infinite and beyond the mind of man fully to fathom." (Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 665).

One would think that if the writer of the above sentence really believed his own words then he would have no problem allowing for the possibility that God was a Trinity.

Ron Rhodes also points out the double standards of the Watchtower, but shows how this can also provide an opportunity to make a significant point in the mind of the Witness:

" will want to point out that according to the Watchtower book Reasoning from the Scriptures, human beings cannot fully understand that God did not have a beginning. After quoting Psalm 90:2, which addresses God's eternal nature, this book asks:

Is that reasonable? Our minds cannot fully comprehend it. But that is not a sound reason for rejecting it. Consider examples: (1) Time. No one can point to a certain moment as the beginning of time. And it is a fact that even though our lives end, time does not. We do not reject the idea of because there are aspects of it that we do not fully comprehend. Rather, we regulate our lives by it. (2) Space.Astronomers find no beginning or end to space. The farther they probe into the universe, the more there is. They do not reject what the evidence shows; many refer to space as being infinite. The same principle applies to the existence of God.

Now emphasize to the Jehovah’s Witness the Watchtower statement that simply because one cannot comprehend something about God is not sound reason for rejecting it. Apply this statement to the doctrine of the Trinity. Simply because we cannot fully comprehend the concept is no reason to reject it." (Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 225.).

As with the earlier quotation from the Watchtower’s Aid book, if the author of the above quotation from the Reasoning book really believed that there were some things that cannot be fully comprehended by the mind of man about God then why reject the Trinity on the grounds that it cannot be fully comprehended by the mind of man?

While not specifically addressing Jehovah’s Witnesses, A.W. Tozer, in his book The Knowledge of the Holy speaks of people who reject the Trinity on the grounds that it cannot be fully comprehended:

"Some persons who reject all that they cannot explain have denied that God is a Trinity. Subjecting the Most High to their cold, level-eyed scrutiny, they conclude that it is impossible that He could be both One and Three. These forget that that their whole life is enshrouded in mystery. They fail to consider that any real explanation of even the simplest phenomenon in nature lies hidden in obscurity and can no more be explained than can the mystery of the Godhead." (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 30).

It seems that one of the reasons that Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the Trinity is that they are generally very rationalistic. Despite there being a few examples where the Watchtower does admit that there are some things that cannot be understood about God (as has been seen in this article) the overwhelming view within Watchtower theology is that things that cannot be easily rationalised by the human mind tend to be rejected. As well as the Trinity, consider other doctrines that Christians hold to that are of a nature that are difficult to comprehend and are rejected by the Watchtower Society:

It would really be arrogant for us to say that we understand everything about God. As we are created and finite creatures, and God is an uncreated, finite, and eternal self-existent Being, it should come as no surprise at all that there will be things about God that we cannot fully comprehend or understand. One such area of God is His Triune nature.

It should also be pointed out that the Bible reveals that that the term mystery, far from being a convenient get out clause for Trinitarians, is actually a scriptural concept, used of God and His ways in a number of passages:

Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave — what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea. (Job 11:7-9)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa. 55:8-9)

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (Romans 11:33)

I will leave the last word to an illustration by Alister McGrath in his book on the Trinity:

"What sort of animal, my wife and I wondered, should we buy for our son as a pet? Eventually, our thoughts turned to rabbits, and we bought a little book on the subject of...rabbits. It was most helpful, describing breeds of rabbits which we had never heard of before, including Flemish Giants. As I read about these enormous rabbits, some words seemed to stand out from the page: ‘Caution: these rabbits are too big to be handled by children.’ And the book went on to recommend dwarf rabbits - which can be held in the palm of the hand - as ideal children‘s pets. Isn‘t this just the way we try and tread God? We try to make him into something which we can handle, something which we can control when in fact God is just too big and too great to be handled by human beings. As Martin Luther once remarked, ‘It is God who handles us, and not we who handle God! We tend to treat God as if he were some kind of pet, something which we can tame, something which we can domesticate.

In the end, the doctrine of the Trinity represents our admission that we cannot tame God to fit our tidy little systems. God just will not fit into the palm of our hands so that we can hold him down! Like the wild west wind in Shelly‘s Ode, he is uncontrollable. Far too many thinkers regard God as some sort of biological specimen, something that can be pinned down beneath a microscope slide to be studied at our convenience and under conditions of our own choosing." (Alister McGrath, Understanding the Trinity, pp. 143-144).

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