The Deity of Christ
David A. Webb
At the heart of the doctrine of the 400,000 member sect calling itself Jehovah's Witnesses are their false teachings regarding the deity of Christ. The Witnesses claim that Christ was the first created being of Jehovah, and that during this pre-human state Christ was the Word (Greek: Logos) of the Father, but was never considered as equal to Jehovah.(1) During this time the Witnesses claim that Christ was some kind of a "a spirit person,"(2) indicating that He only possessed "a godly quality."(3) This particular doctrine of the Witnesses traces its beginning back to Arius (c. 280-336 A.D.), Bishop of Alexandria, and to his followers called Arians. "The Arians taught that there was a time when God was alone and was not yet a Father. Arius went on to ascribe to Christ only a subordinate, secondary, created divinity."(4) This is essentially the same position held by the Witnesses today. They recognize only Jehovah (God the Father) as the supreme deity, Christ as a lesser deity, and claim that the Holy Spirit is only "the invisible active force of Almighty God"(5) and not a third person. It would be impossible to answer in detail all the arguments raised by the Jehovah's Witnesses in this article. Therefore I will only attempt to make a few remarks about some of the "key" scriptures dealing with the deity of Christ.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made." The New World Translation of The Holy Scriptures of the Jehovah's Witnesses translates the latter part of verse one, ". . . and the Word was a god." This is done to uphold their theory that Jesus was a created, subordinate deity, inferior to Jehovah God. In reality the Witnesses' position is polytheistic, affirming that there exists, besides Jehovah God, someone who is a lesser god. The Witnesses' own translation defeats the concept of a minor deity existing with God. In Deuteronomy 4:35, the New World Translation reads, " . . . Jehovah is the (true) God; there is no other besides him." In Isaiah 43:10, it reads, " . . . Before me there was no God formed, and after -me there continued to be none." Finally, in Deuteronomy 32:39 the same translation reads, "See now that I-1 am he and there, are no gods together with me."
The Witnesses argue that the Greek demands the indefinite article "a" to appear before "god" (Greek: theos) in John 1:1. This is simply not true. If it were true the Witnesses would be grossly inconsistent in observing their own rule. "In John 1:6, 12-13, 18 Theos is found, and in each place it is without the article . . . It is just 'God.' Why not render it 'A God?'"(6) In quoting from Greek authorities the Witnesses will either make reference to scriptures which have nothing to do with the subject, or quote only part of what various grammarians may say, leaving the false impression that these authorities endorse Jehovah's Witness doctrine. The apostle John clearly shows that Christ is just as much entitled to be called "God" as is the "God" whom Christ was "with" "in the beginning." This means both God and the Word (Greek: Logos) are co-equal and coexistent. Furthermore, John identifies Christ as being active in the creation, which would make Him part of the God (Hebrew: Elohim, literally "God" in the plural sense) of Genesis chapter one. (See Genesis 1:1, 26-27.)
"Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said God was his Father, making himself equal to God." The wording of John shows that Jesus considered God to be His (Greek: idios) Father. By the usage of idios, John said Jesus was claiming to be "equal in quality or in quantity . . . to claim for one's self the nature, rank, authority which belong to God."(7) The Witnesses argue that the Jews misunderstood the claim of Jesus, and that they mistakenly concluded that Jesus was claiming equality with God. "The Jews well understood what Jesus said, but John 5:18 is the statement of the Apostle John, not the Jews! . . . John said that Jesus claimed equality."(8) Jesus also claimed equality with God on a number of other occasions: John 5:23 and John 10:30- . 38. In reference to the latter, Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). The Witnesses claim that Jehovah and Christ are only "one in agreement, purpose and organization."(9) What they fail to mention is that, according to verse 31, the Jews took up stones to stone Jesus, giving as their reason, "For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God" (verse 33, ASV). The Jews would not have cried "blasphemy" against one who merely claimed to be "one in agreement; purpose and organization" with God.
"Who, (Christ Jesus) being in the form of God, thought it not. robbery to be equal with God." The Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation of Philippians 2:6 is rendered, "Who, although he was existing in God's form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God." The impression intended by the Witnesses in this translation is that Christ was not equal to God and never considered the idea worthwhile. However, the passage does teach that Christ was equal to the Father, and shows that He did not consider His equality to be stealing any of God's glory or deity. Christ never had to grasp or seize any of the quality or quantity of the deity of the Father; He already had it! No one has any need to seize something he already possesses. Another translation renders this verse, "Who, though from the beginning he had the nature of God, did not reckon equality with God something to be forcibly retained."(10)
These verses are also used by the Witnesses to attempt to prove that Jesus was only a created being inferior to Jehovah. They draw attention to Christ being "the firstborn of every creature" (verse 15), and proceed to show that Jesus is referred to as the "begotten of God," and the "Son of God" in a number of other passages. The Witnesses consider the expression "Son of God" to mean someone inferior to God, but the first century Jew knew the expression meant full equality with God, and it was on this account that they sought to kill Him (see Lev. 24:16; John 5:18; 10:30-38; Matt. 26:63-65). The Witnesses also quote Revelation 3:14 where Christ is identified as "the beginning of the creation of God" (KJV), proving, they say, that Jesus was the first creature God created. The statements of Christ being "begotten of God" or "the only begotten" are referring to His position, not His origin. "In Hebrews 11:17, referring to Abraham, 'yea he that had gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son.' Isaac was not his only son, nor was he the eldest. Ishmael was born before Isaac (see Galatians 4:22). Isaac, however, occupied the position of firstborn, and claimed title to the Only Begotten because he was the one of promise and purpose. The same is true in regard to Jesus. He came uniquely by promise with the purpose of human redemption. In this sense he is both Firstborn and Only Begotten."(11)
As for the word "firstborn," it can either refer to "firstborn in time" (i.e. oldest, or first to be born), or "firstborn in position," indicating "supremacy," or "pre-eminence." The entire section of Colossians 1:15-18 is emphasizing the supremacy of Jesus. His supremacy, or pre-eminence, is seen in that He created all things, He existed before all things, by His power all things are held together, and He has power over all other powers, even death itself. "He was not the first person to be raised from the dead, but he was the first never to die again. His resurrection from the dead proved his preeminence. 'Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.' This is emphasis of His position, not origin. He was 'declared to be the Son of God . . . by the resurrection from the dead.' Romans 1:4 . . . being the firstborn is a statement of position-not origin!"(12)
In reference to Revelation 3:14, the New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses perverts the scripture by making it say that Christ is " . . . the beginning of creation by God," instead of leaving it to say that Christ is " . . . the beginning of creation of God" (KJV). The word "beginning" (Greek: arche) is literally translated "origin," or "source." Left alone, the passage would read that Christ is "the Origin (Source) of God's creation."(13) This would then harmonize with John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-18, and Hebrews 1:1-3. Therefore the passage does not teach that Christ was the first to be created by God, but that Christ is the origin, or source of all that was created.
Without question, Christ is equal to the Father in every respect! He claimed to be equal in "quality and quantity" with the Father, and claimed for Himself "the nature, rank, (and) authority which belong to God." To accept the Jehovah's Witness' position, one would have to deny Christ His position of supremacy and preeminence which the scriptures so plainly establish. In short, to accept the Witnesses' position is to deny the scriptures, and make Christ a liar!
1. Let God Be True, 1946 Edition, pp. 34-35.
2. Ibid.. p. 34.
3. The Word According to John-Who Is He? (booklet published in 1962), p. 56.
4. Anthony A. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 327.
5. Ibid., p. 89.
6. Maurice Barnett, Jehovah's Witnesses, Section 2, p. 9.
7. Joseph Henry Thayer. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), p. 307.
8. Maurice Barnett, op. cit., Section 2, p. 10.
9. Let God Be True, p. 86.
10. The New Testament in Modern English, translated by Helen Barrett Montgomery and published by The Judson Press, American Baptist Board of Education and Publication, 1952.
11. Maurice Barnett, op. cit., Section 2, p. 16.
12. Ibid., p. 15.
13. The New Testament in the Language of Today, William F. Beck, Concordia Publishing House, 1963.
Truth Magazine XIX: 26, pp. 403-405