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Conjoined Twins and the Trinity

Can One Person be with Another, and yet be the Same Being?

Robert Hommel


The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has offered various arguments against the Trinity generally, and in favor of the New World Translation of John 1:1 ("and the Word was a god"), based on what it sees as the logical inconsistency of one God subsisting as three distinct Persons.  For example:

"Trinitarians claim that [John 1:1] means that "the Word" (Greek ho logos) who came to earth as Jesus Christ was Almighty God himself. Note, however, that here again the context lays the groundwork for accurate understanding. Even the King James Version says, "The Word was with God." (Italics ours.) Someone who is "with" another person cannot be the same as that other person" (SYBT, p. 27).

While Trinitarians claim that Christ is Almighty God, we of course do not claim that He is the same person as the Father.  The classic Trinitarian formula, Una Substantia, Tres Personae (One Substance, Three Persons), recognizes the personal distinction required by John 1:1b.  We agree with the Watchtower that "someone who is with another person cannot be the same as that other person."  The Watchtower has created a strawman of the Trinitarian position (since it correctly defines the Trinity on page 3 of this same publication, it appears it intended to do so).  John 1:1b may contradict the strawman, but not the true doctrine of the Trinity.

Recognizing this fact, some online Jehovah's Witness apologists have finessed the Watchtower's argument in a manner similar to the following:

"There are no examples - apart from God - where one person is said to be with another person yet they are the same being; therefore, it is reasonable to assume that God is not multi-personal, and therefore reasonable to translate John 1:1c as does the NWT."

While this reformulation avoids the strawman fallacy, it contains two others:

1.  The fallacy of false analogy.

2.  The fallacy of begging the question.

The argument, as presented, is a false analogy because both Jehovah's Witnesses and Trinitarians agree that God is a unique Being.  He has many characteristics that are unique to Him.  Simply because they are unique does not mean that God does not have them.  Thus, even if it could be demonstrated that there are no other examples of multi-personal beings in all of human experience, this fact would not logically preclude God from being multi-personal.  

The argument is also an example of begging the question because it assumes what it seeks to prove: Namely, that multi-personal beings do not exist.  This remainder of this article will seek to demonstrate that examples of such beings do, in fact, exist - albeit rarely.  And if they do, we can offer them as counterexamples to the challenge offered by Jehovah's Witness apologists.

Defining Terms

The terms "person" and "being" can be defined in various ways.  Generally speaking, when Trinitarians speak of the Persons of the Trinity, they mean distinct "centers of consciousness."  A center of consciousness is self-aware (it refers to itself as "I"); it has a mind, emotions, and a will.

When Trinitarians speak of the "being" of God, they mean God viewed as an entity.  An entity differs from a person in that the former refers to manner and mode of existence and the latter to volitional and cognitive function.  As humans, we are 'persons' because we are self-aware - we have minds, emotions, and wills.  But we are human beings, or entities, because in addition to our consciousness, we have physical bodies of a certain size and shape; have internal organs, bones, and teeth characteristic of humans; all dictated by our uniquely human DNA.  

We have certain characteristics and capacities because we are human beings; we also have certain characteristics and capacities because we are human persons.  The characteristics and capacities we share as human beings may be termed generic; those that distinguish us as persons from other human persons may be termed individual.  When Trinitarians speak of the Word "sharing the same nature as God," we mean that the Pre-Incarnate Son possessed all the generic characteristics of God (i.e., Deity - what makes God, God1).  But we do not mean that He also shared individual characteristics with other persons in the Trinity (e.g.,  the Son is not equal to His Father in authority; the Father sends, the Son is sent).

If we imagine a science fiction scenario in which a scientist's mind is removed from his body and placed in a machine which enables him to retain full consciousness, it is debatable whether we would still consider him a human being.  True, he retains his personality (his mind, emotions, and will), and thus - by our definition - is a human person.  But since he lacks his human form and mode of existence - again, by our definition - he is not a human being.2

Conjoined Twins

The term "conjoined twins" refers to twins whose bodies are connected in some way.  Conjoined twins are rare - occurring roughly once in every 50,000 births. They are always identical: the product of a single egg that for unknown reasons fails to divide fully into separate twins during the first three weeks of gestation. 

The most common configuration for conjoined twins is connections at the chest and abdomen.  Medical texts, however, list more than a dozen possible permutations. One such configuration is extremely rare (only three of four cases on record), but is instructive when considering issues of "person" and "being":  Dicephalic twins.

"Dicepalic" literally means "two heads."  Dicephalic twins consists of two heads that share a single two-legged body.  The most famous living Dicephalic twins are Abigail and Brittany Hensel (pictured at left).

Born in 1990, the Hensel twins are described as "healthy and stable" by doctors.  Although they have separate necks and heads, separate hearts, stomachs and spinal cords, they share a bloodstream and all organs below the waist.

Abigail ("Abby") controls the right limbs, Brittany ("Britty") the left. Tickle Abby on her side, and Britty can't feel it - except along a narrow region on their back where they seem to share sensation. 

Though they share an intimacy beyond what most of us can imagine, each twin has a distinct personality.  Abby wants to be a dentist; Britty dreams of piloting planes.  Abby's favorite color is blue; Britty's is pink.  Abby enjoys drawing; Britty loves animals.  When Abby gets a question wrong in school, Britty usually gets it right ... and vice versa!

Abby and Britty are clearly two "persons," as we have defined the term, above.  But in a profound sense, Abby and Britty are also one.  Britty is more prone to colds and coughs than Abby, but since their circulation is linked, if Abby takes medicine, Britty's infection will go away. To their delight, the twins need only one set of vaccinations.  Their two brains perform highly coordinated activities, such as walking, tying shoes, swimming, riding a bicycle, and hitting a baseball which doctors are at a loss to explain.  At a more fundamental level, as conjoined twins, Abby and Britty shared a placenta and amniotic sac when they were in the womb.

Significantly, the twins sometimes use "I" to refer to themselves individually, but other times to themselves collectively.

In a very real sense, the Hensel twins may be seen as a single entity or being.  Neither can survive without the other, and surgical separation is simply not possible.3  Many researchers theorize that conjoined twins arise from a single human embryo in which a malfunctioning organizer gene - nicknamed Noggin - causes multiple appendages to develop - including, in the case of the Hensels, a second head and brain.

The issue of whether conjoined twins constitute a single being has even reached the courts.  In a case involving another set of conjoined twins in Manchester, England, the jury was asked to decide if the twins comprised one human being or two.4

The issue has also been addressed in religious law.  A Jewish Halakhic anthology from the 16th century ruled that conjoined twins are one human being.5

Conjoined twins - especially dicephalic twins like the Hensels - may very well be examples of multi-personal entities - two persons united in a single human being.

The Trinity and Conjoined Twins

We are now in a position to answer the the question posed in the sub-title of this article:  "Can one person be with another, and yet be the same being?"  In the case of the Hensel twins, the answer is "Yes!"  Abby can be with Britty, and yet be the same human being.

While the analogy of conjoined twins is not perfect (for starters, there are only two!), it is - I think - an apt earthly model for the Trinity.  I am not suggesting that God is literally conjoined triplets, with three heads sharing a single body of Spirit.  But just as conjoined twins are - at the same time - plural and one, so too is the God of the Bible.7

When describing His relationship with the Father, Jesus speaks of a profound intimacy: 

Everything I have belongs to you, and everything you have belongs to me (John 17:10).


I in you and you in me (John 17:21).  


The Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and will show him greater deeds than these, so that you will be amazed. (John 5:19-20).


I and the Father are one (John 10:30).

Britty and Abby experience something of this same sort of intimacy with each other:

The girls manage - no one knows exactly how - to move as one being.

"Bound to each other but defiantly independent, these six year old girls are a living textbook on camaraderie and compromise, on dignity and flexibility, on the subtler varieties of freedom." These two girls forced by birth to be more firmly united than any of us will ever be by choice have much to teach us about living together. Their temperaments have been different since infancy, yet the benefits of knowing each other's personal life and ways is something they have grasped more quickly than their peers.6

Everything Abby has is Britty's, and vice versa.  Abby shares her very being with Britty, and thus is "in" her as Britty is "in" Abby.  Britty cannot do something as simple to the rest of us as walk across a room without Abby's agreement (when the girls disagree on their destination, they literally go in circles).  Abby and Britty are two lovely little girls - and they are, at the same time, one unique being.  Their relationship with each other - an interdependence based on their unified body and a distinction based on their discreet personalities - is, as it were, a mirror dimly reflecting the relationship of the members of the Trinity:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous... (1 Corinthians 13:4ff).

God declares His glory in His creation (Psalm 19:1).  Though creation falls far short of the reality of God, nevertheless He has provided "signposts" pointing to His grandeur.  If His power is demonstrated by quasars and colliding galaxies, His beauty by sunlight refracted in morning dew, His love by the love of a child for its mother, why cannot His nature as the Triune God be reflected (in some small measure) by His creation of conjoined twins?

The Three-Headed God?

This article began with a quote from the Watchtower in which it misrepresented the Trinity.  I will close with another:

"When the clergy are asked by their followers as to how such a combination of three in one can possibly exist, they will generally answer, "That is a mystery." Some will try to illustrate it by using triangles, trefoils, or images with three heads on one neck. Nevertheless, God-fearing persons who want to know Jehovah and serve him find it a bit difficult to love and worship a complicated, freakish-looking, three-headed God. The clergy who inject such ideas will contradict themselves in the very next breath by stating that God created man in his own image; and certainly no one has ever seen a three-headed human creature" (Let God be True, pp. 83-84, emphasis added).

Lest anyone be tempted to suggest that this article is a case in point, let me ask the following questions:

Are the Hensel twins "freakish-looking?"

Did God make a mistake creating them?

Evangelicals believe that God does not err; nothing catches Him by surprise.  Conjoined twins like the Hensels are not "freaks of nature," but rather are God's creation, and as such, they declare His glory.  I hope that this article can, in some small way, redeem8 the Watchtower's "three-headed God" accusation against the Trinity.


I will give the Hensel twins the last word:


"I will not be separated," says Brittany.  "And I don't have two heads," says Abigail.




1.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines "Deity" as: 

(1) The estate or rank of a god, Godhood, the personality of a god, Godship; (2) the divine quality, character, or nature of God.  Godhood, divinity, the divine nature and attributes, the Godhead; (3) the condition or state in which the Divine Being exists; (4) a divinity, a divine being, a god; (4) an object of worship; (5) a supreme being as creator of the universe.

2.  Among cognitive scientists and philosophers there are two major views of what constitutes a "being" or "identity:"  The Psychological View and the Organism View.  The former says that some sort of psychological continuity (a mind and at least rudimentary consciousness) is required for identity; the latter that identity exists so long as the organism in question can perform certain essential life functions (such as respiration, metabolism, reproduction, etc.).  In our example of the scientist with the detached mind, he is a human being according to the Psychological View and not a human being according to the Organism View.  While I am proposing a definition of "being" similar to the Organism View of Identity, I do not subscribe to the essential materialism inherent in that view.

3.  "Modern medical practice is to attempt often complex surgeries to separate most conjoined twins, although there is serious ethical debate on the subject, particularly when the survival of both twins is questionable.  Perhaps the closest case to the Hensels in which separation was attempted is that of Eilish and Katie Holton of Ireland. Born in a configuration similar to the Hensels' but with four arms rather than three, the Holton twins were separated in 1992 at age 3 in a 15-hour operation involving 25 doctors at London's Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital. Katie died of heart problems four days later" (Wallis, Claudia, "The Most Intimate Bond," Time, March 25, 1996).

4.  This case involved a set of twins fused at the abdomen. Unlike the Hensels, "Jodie" and "Mary" (not their real names) shared one heart, which provided oxygen to both.  Doctors concluded that if they were not separated, they could live a maximum of six months. However, if they were separated, only Jodie would live and Mary would die.   Their parents would not consent to the operation. Both twins were equal in their eyes and both were deserving of love. Devout Catholics, they insisted that God willed the twins to be born the way they were and God would determine the span of their lives. However, the authorities of St. Mary's Hospital wanted to act in the best interests of the viable child. Therefore, they took the case to court to override the parent's decision.  The jury determined that the twins were "two individuals of inestimable value," but also ruled that the surgery proceed.  As expected, Mary died as a result.

5.  Pepper 1967:133. Quoted in: Barilan, Y. Michael "Head-Counting vs. Heart-Counting: An Examination of the Recent Case of the Conjoined Twins from Malta" Perspectives in Biology and Medicine - Volume 45, Number 4, Autumn 2002, pp. 593-603.

6.  Kliewer, Mary, "The Freedom of Love" (, accessed 20 April, 2006), quotation marks in original.

7.  See Ray Goldsmith's article "The Plural Maker Called God."

8.  I use the term in its Biblical sense of "buying back from the bondage of sin."