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Friday, January 1, 2010


Note: Although I haven’t been able to find Watchtower Society (WTS) responses to all of Bowman’s criticism, I believe that my responses are nevertheless honest and accurate. Jehovah’s Witnesses should research the most recent WTS literature on the subject in question before using this information with others. – RDB.


(From the RDB Files)

Bowman: “Quoting out of context”

Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) are continuing their “practice of quoting out of context” - p. 95, Why You Should Believe in the Trinity - An Answer to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Robert M. Bowman, Baker Book House, 1989, seventh printing, Dec. 1993.

This is one of Bowman’s (as well as his predecessor’s - Walter Martin - see NWT study) favorite attacks. But every quote by anyone is nearly always to some extent “out of context”! Otherwise we wouldn’t be “quoting from” a source; we’d be reciting the entire book (or speech or play, etc.).

For example, we might read in a newspaper the following review by a movie critic:

The Wormy Apple is probably the best example of a nearly perfectly worthless movie that I have ever seen.

"Oh, the music in one 2-minute scene was absolutely delightful even though the acting, dialogue, and visuals in that same scene were abominable!

"And, for those who are enamored with the color green, which floods every scene from beginning to end, this otherwise wretched film is invaluable. You must go to this movie only if you care to see your last dinner one more time! What an incredible waste of film!” - New World Times Movie Review.

We might honestly quote ‘out of context’ from this review by writing:

The Wormy Apple is … a …worthless movie….” - NW Times Review.

Or we might dishonestly quote ‘out of context’ by writing:

The Wormy Apple is probably the best … movie that I have ever seen. ….absolutely delightful…! This … film is invaluable. You must go to this movie …! What an incredible … film!” - NW Times Review.

Information that the author considered important was left out of both quotes, but only one is actually dishonest. That is, only one makes the original writer seem to say something that is contrary to what he actually said.

So the real question Bowman should ask should be:

“Are JWs dishonestly quoting out of context?”

For example: Bowman insists that JWs misconstrue the Trinity concept (although its definition is quite variable from sect to sect and even from person to person within most sects). He “proves” this by quoting from the “Trinity” booklet (Should You Believe in the Trinity?, Watchtower, 1989):

‘that God alone is the Almighty, the Creator, separate and distinct from anyone else’ (p. 12), is thought by JWs to contradict the Trinity, whereas it is in full agreement with it.” - p. 12, Bowman.

Now, if JWs understood and taught that that phrase, by itself, contradicts most concepts of the trinity, then Bowman would be correct in his accusation. But that is not what they said and not what they teach.

Notice the complete sentence in the JW “Trinity” booklet:

“What comes through very clearly to an impartial reader [of the entire Bible] is that God alone is the Almighty, the Creator, separate and distinct from anyone else, and that Jesus, even in his prehuman existence, is also separate and distinct, a created being, subordinate to God.” - p. 12.

And a similar statement on p. 3 added,

“They also believe that the holy ghost is not a person but God’s spirit, his active force.”*

Now Bowman’s quote itself is a dishonest quote “out of context” because he pretends that JWs are claiming that his partial quote, by itself, contradicts the trinity concept when they claim no such thing (as the complete sentence clearly shows). It’s all right to “quote out of context,” but it is not all right to claim that that quote means that the author is intending something different from what he clearly is saying in the full quote.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Again, Bowman tells us (p. 23) that JWs are dishonestly using scholarly quotes on p. 6 of their “Trinity” booklet. He points out that the partial quotes by JWs leave out statements by those trinitarian authors that there is data found in the NT from which trinitarians have formulated the trinity doctrine, that trinitarians see trinitarian elements in the NT. Well, of course! They wouldn’t be trinitarians, I hope, if they couldn’t “see” such “elements.”

But here is how the “Trinity” booklet introduces those “partial” quotes:

“Well, then, do the Christian Greek Scriptures ... speak clearly of a Trinity?”

The quotes then show many authorities admitting that the NT does not speak clearly of a trinity. The fact that most trinitarians claim to find “evidence” from which to construct a complete trinity doctrine was not the point of the quotes as the introduction plainly states. (Such trinitarian claims of scriptural evidence are even examined on pp. 23-29 of the “Trinity” booklet.) This is not dishonest quoting by the JWs, but it is dishonest of Bowman to make such a claim.

And again, it is certainly not dishonest to quote only those portions of a statement which are pertinent to the subject you have already defined as your topic in this paragraph or section. You must not misconstrue those portions, however. Certainly it would have been wrong, if someone had quoted these sources partially and implied that those quotes meant that the authors didn’t see any trace of what might be interpreted as elements of a trinity doctrine. (Of course it would be extremely difficult to believe that a trinitarian would say such a thing in the first place.)

- - - - - - -

Again Bowman tells us about JWs “quoting [dishonestly] out of context.”

The JW [Trinity] booklet continues citing scholarly sources out of context to give the impression that these sources deny that the early church’s faith was trinitarian.

For example, the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics is quoted as follows: “At first the Christian faith was not Trinitarian.... It was not so in the apostolic and subapostolic ages, as reflected in the NT [New Testament] and other early Christian writings” (pp. 6-7). The first part of this quotation is cut off in mid-sentence, and reads in full, “At first the Christian faith was not Trinitarian in the strictly ontological reference [emphasis added].” Here the point is that while the early Christians viewed God as trinitarian economically, in his activity in the world and in their experience, they did not explicitly speak of God as trinitarian ontologically, in his very essential nature or being. But this by no means implies that the early Christians denied that this was so. Thus, the article continues on the same page, “It should be observed that there is no real cleavage or antithesis between the doctrines of the economic and the essential Trinity, and naturally so. The Tri-unity [or essential Trinity] represents the effort to think out the [economic] Trinity, and so to afford it a reasonable basis.” This is consistent with the article’s earlier assertion that “if the doctrine of the Trinity appeared somewhat late in theology, it must [?] have lived very early in devotion.” - pp. 25-26.

So, is the “Trinity” booklet really “citing scholarly sources out of context to give the impression that these sources deny that the early church’s faith was trinitarian”?

Well, here is the stated purpose by the JWs for the quotes they are giving in this section of the “Trinity” booklet (p. 6):

Taught by Early Christians?


“Did the early Christians TEACH the Trinity?

Note the following comments by historians and theologians”

There then followed four quotes from four different sources. Three of them are trinitarian and probably (like the trinitarian source examined by Bowman) also express some belief that the “Trinity” (in some nebulous form) was really “understood” by these Christians, but somehow they just never happened to teach it! - - - (How else is a trinitarian going to hang on to his tradition when he finds that the very first Christians did not teach a trinity? By telling himself, “Oh well, they must have been thinking it, they just never said it aloud.”)

But the sole stated purpose for quoting these sources was to show that the earliest Christians did not teach the trinity! It is not dishonest in any sense to quote the portions of a statement that apply to your stated purpose alone!

When you ignore the stated purpose given by someone for the quotes they use and tell your readers, in effect, that they gave those quotes for a different reason, you truly, dishonestly “quote out of context,” or in plain English: you lie.

It is inconceivable (if they really believed in the essential lifesaving doctrine of the Trinity) that none of the earliest Christian writers ever clearly wrote about it or taught it. - See the CREEDS study.

It is also beyond credibility that those earliest Christians believed in a three-in-one God, and yet none of the Jews and Gentiles who wrote about them ever wrote that they had any such belief! And the Jews, especially, would have written of nothing else when referring to Christians since such a corruption of their concept of God was overwhelmingly offensive to them. - See the ISRAEL study.

It is equally inconceivable (if the Trinity - or its “economical” equivalent - had really been believed in by the Christians for the first 200 years) that none of the earliest Baptismal confessions (or the creeds that first grew from them) ever taught the trinity (or even mentioned “God the Son” or “God the Holy Spirit” or anything equivalent)! If such knowledge were really understood at that time, it would have to be part of those Christians’ teaching and confession! It is not! See the HIST (f. n. #21, 23-26) and the CREEDS studies.

- - - - - -

Bowman continues his “quoting out of context” attack on pp. 89-91.

Before examining the biblical evidence for the belief that Jesus is God, it may be helpful to respond to the JWs’ use of an unidentified article from the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library which they quote to prove that biblical scholars agree with them that Jesus was not God.

First, the JW booklet Should You Believe in the Trinity? quotes this article as stating: “The fact has to be faced that New Testament research over, say, the last thirty or forty years has been leading an increasing number of biblical scholars to the conclusion that Jesus... certainly never believed himself to be God” (p. 20). This is a correct assessment of modern biblical scholarship, but the Witness booklet has omitted a part of the sentence that puts this fact in an altogether different light. The full sentence reads (with the omitted portion emphasized):

“Yet be that as it may, the fact has to be faced that New Testament research over, say the last thirty or forty years has been leading an increasing number of biblical scholars to the conclusion that Jesus himself may not have claimed any of the christological titles which the Gospels ascribe to him, not even the functional designation ‘Christ,’ and certainly never believed himself to be God.”

That is, the same biblical scholars who deny that Jesus claimed to be God also doubt that he called himself the “Christ,” or Messiah. The JWs can hardly claim this judgment to be a reliable one. - pp. 89-90.

.... It is therefore unfortunate that the Witnesses quote out of context from these

scholars against trinitarianism. - p. 91. [underlined emphasis added.]

Well, again, the stated purpose of this section of the “Trinity” booklet is:

“The fact is that Jesus is not God and never claimed to be. This is being recognized by an increasing number of scholars. As the Rylands Bulletin states:....” - p. 20.

The JWs don’t need to agree with any other statements made by this scholar (or any others) to honestly quote the portion that proves the point of their stated purpose! And, in fact, Bowman admits that the JWs’ quote “is a correct assessment of modern biblical scholarship”! - p. 89.

The fact that he, as well as JWs themselves, disagrees with other possibilities and speculation by many modern scholars has nothing to do with the point at hand. Bowman, as well as nearly everyone else, selectively (and partially, of course) quotes from scholars whom he disagrees with on various other issues - - so what?

This, like many of his other accusations, is a red herring thrown onto the path in an attempt to lead us away from the point the JWs are making (and to cast ever more accusations of dishonesty at them).

The only reason for the quotes, as stated, is to show that an ever-increasing number of scholars (whether we choose to believe them on this point - or any other - is entirely irrelevant) are absolutely convinced (as opposed to speculating as to whether Jesus himself may not have actually claimed certain titles for himself) that “Jesus is not God and never claimed to be.” Bowman admitted this was true! Anything else on this point is obfuscation and hypocrisy as far as it relates to JWs’ “dishonesty” and “quoting out of context.”

But, nevertheless, Bowman tells us, “the Witnesses quote out of context,” again!

- - - - - -

As for his claim on p. 95, Bowman is again very dishonest in his accusation that JWs are “quoting out of context” from the Journal of Biblical Literature (JBL):

It should also be mentioned that the [“Trinity”] booklet continues the JW’s practice of quoting out of context from scholarly sources. Most notable is their use of an article in the Journal of Biblical Literature on John 1:1. The booklet goes so far as to claim that the JBL article says that the Greek construction of John 1:1 “indicates that the logos can be likened to a god” (p. 27). This is absolutely false.

Bowman calls this “quoting out of context” from the JBL, and then puts quotation marks around “indicates that the logos can be likened to a god” to show the exact words which the JW’s were guilty of “quoting out of context.”

Well, fortunately, I happen to have a photocopy of this entire article by Philip B. Harner as found in the March, 1973, Journal of Biblical Literature (Vol. 92). - See Harner JBL.

But first, here is the actual quote from the JW “Trinity” booklet:

The Journal of Biblical Literature says that expressions “with an anarthrous [no article] predicate preceding the verb, are primarily qualitative in meaning.” As the Journal notes, this indicates that the lo’gos can be likened to a god. It also says of John 1:1: “The qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun [theos] cannot be regarded as definite.”

The JWs quote twice from the JBL in this paragraph and properly enclose those quotes with quotation marks. The statement in question (which Bowman claims is “quoting out of context”) in the middle of the paragraph is not enclosed with quotation marks. The wording itself shows, in context, that it is a paraphrase, a restatement, or an interpretation of what was stated in that article, but not a quote!

You simply cannot “quote out of context” when you’re not quoting at all! But this quote by Bowman from the “Trinity” booklet is itself certainly in the category of dishonestly quoting out of context. He has repeated the words properly, but by his use of quotation marks (and his accusation of “quoting out of context”) he is clearly saying that the JWs claimed to quote those words from the JBL. This is obviously false!

As to whether the JBL article made a statement that can honestly be paraphrased, restated, or interpreted as “this indicates that the logos can be likened to a god,” let’s examine pp. 85, 86 of that JBL article. There is a very complex series of statements and interpretations by Harner beginning with 5 different ways John could have written John 1:1c. These are labeled clauses A, B, C, D, and E. The interpretations and conclusions concerning these, starting on p. 85, are somewhat mixed together and somewhat confusing. Harner states that clause D

“... would probably mean that the logos was ‘a god’ or a divine being of some kind....”

Bowman accuses the JWs of misquoting this statement by Harner (concerning clause D) and dishonestly applying it to clause B (which is the clause actually used in John 1:1c).

Well, I can see where a reader might be confused and make such a conclusion from Harner’s statements, but the JWs did not do that. The above statement clearly states that “the logos was ‘a god’”! The JW statement was that this “indicates that the logos can be likened to a god”! Believe me, if the JWs were going to quote or paraphrase this statement by Harner as applying to John 1:1c, they would certainly have said “the logos WAS a god.”

Instead, I believe the “Trinity” booklet paraphrases or interprets a statement by Bruce Vawter which Harner claims is an explanation of the meaning of John 1:1c. Harner says,

“Bruce Vawter explains the meaning of the clause [Jn 1:1c] succinctly and lucidly. ‘The Word is divine, but he is not all of divinity, for he has already been distinguished from another divine Person.’” - pp. 85-86.

So, is it dishonest to paraphrase or interpret “The Word [logos] is divine” as “The logos can be likened to a god.”? Well, here are the actual meanings of “divine”:

“1a: Of or relating to God: proceeding from God ... b: of or relating to a god; having the nature of a god; like a god or like that of a god.” - Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary, unabridged, 1962.

Harner gave his own interpretation of Vawter’s use of “divine”:

Undoubtedly Vawter means that the Word is ‘divine’ in the same sense that ho theos [God] is divine.” - p. 86.

If Harner is allowed to make up his own interpretation of Vawter’s meaning for “divine,” then JWs should be allowed to give an honest interpretation of their own.

Although they could have used definition #1a. above (e.g., “The Word proceeded from God”), I don’t believe the JWs have interpreted dishonestly by taking definition #1b. from the authoritative Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary to paraphrase or interpret Vawter’s use of “divine.” It would certainly have been dishonest to claim that it was a quote, though. JWs didn’t do that; Bowman did!

(Incidentally, the admission by Harner, and many of the trinitarian scholars he quotes [and perhaps Bowman himself - p. 95] that only the word order prevents the very same words at John 1:1c from meaning ‘The Word was a god’ [as in Harner’s clause D] is very important! In most cases - including John 1:1c - the word order makes no essential difference to the meaning! - see the "HARNER: JBL 'Qualitative' Article Refuted" study, endnote #1.)

So we find that Bowman frequently falsely accuses JWs of dishonestly quoting other sources. He has even made up a “quote” by JW’s to “prove” their “dishonest” quoting! But the very best illustration of dishonest quoting that I have found is on p. 93 of Bowman’s book where he claims to quote the JWs’ “Trinity” booklet (p. 28):

Third, it is by no means necessary to translate nouns in such constructions [as found in Jn 1:1c] with the indefinite “a” or “an,” as even the Witnesses admit when they say that “when the context requires it, translators may insert a definite article in front of the noun in this type of sentence structure” (p. 28...)

But here is the honest quote from the JWs’ trinity booklet (p. 28):

Colwell had to acknowledge this regarding the predicate noun, for he said: ‘It is indefinite [“a” or “an”] in this position only when the context demands it.’ So even he admits that when the context requires it, translators may insert an indefinite article in front of the noun in this type of sentence structure.

Bowman actually changed the wording to make the JWs appear to say just the opposite of what they had actually said (and to “prove” his point that “god” at John 1:1c can honestly be translated “the god” - which in NT Greek means “God”)! This is absolutely the most dishonest form of “quoting” that is possible!

Remember, this is the seventh printing of Bowman’s original 1989 publication. If he remains true to the form of his mentor and predecessor, Walter Martin, this will never be corrected - not even for the 50th printing!

If Bowman (like Martin - see the NWT and the MARTIN studies) is this dishonest in the areas that I am able to check, why should I believe him in any of the other areas that I am not yet able to check?



* Here is a more complete quote from page 3 (which the writers reasonably assume will be read before the statement on page 12 partially quoted by Bowman above):

"Various Trinitarian concepts exist. But generally the Trinity teaching is that in the Godhead there are three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; yet, together they are but one God. The doctrine says that the three are coequal, almighty, and uncreated, having existed eternally in the Godhead.

"Others, however, say that the Trinity doctrine is false, that Almighty God stands alone as a separate, eternal, and all-powerful being. They say that Jesus in his prehuman existence was, like the angels, a separate spirit person created by God, and for this reason he must have had a beginning. They teach that Jesus has never been Almighty God’s equal in any sense; he has always been subject to God and still is. They also believe that the holy ghost is not a person but God’s spirit, his active force.

"Supporters of the Trinity say that it is founded not only on religious tradition but also on the Bible. Critics of the doctrine say that it is not a Bible teaching, one history source even declaring: “The origin of the [Trinity] is entirely pagan.”—The Paganism in Our Christianity.

"If the Trinity is true, it is degrading to Jesus to say that he was never equal to God as part of a Godhead. But if the Trinity is false, it is degrading to Almighty God to call anyone his equal, and even worse to call Mary the “Mother of God.” If the Trinity is false, it dishonors God to say, as noted in the book Catholicism: “Unless [people] keep this Faith whole and undefiled, without doubt [they] shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: we worship one God in Trinity.” – p. 3, Should You Believe in the Trinity?, WTBandTS, 1989.

(An RDB File)

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