August 20, 2018

The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Doctrine of Christ (III)

By Cecil Willis

Answering Jehovah's Witnesses' Arguments

No study of the Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrine of Christ would be complete unless it considered and answered the various arguments used by the Witnesses to prove that Jesus was a created being rather than being Jehovah God. Hence, in this article, I propose to consider the major passages and arguments used to prove that Jesus is a Created being.

1. Rev. 3:14. The King James translation of this verse is as follows: "And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God." The Jehovah's Witnesses use this passage to prove that Jesus was the first created being. The Greek word from which "beginning" is translated is arche; the proper understanding of its usage in this context is essential to the true understanding of this verse. `Arche always signifies `primacy' whether in time: beginning, principium, or in rank: power, dominion, office" (Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 1, p. 479). Rather than bearing the meaning that Jesus was the first Created being, arche signifies Jesus' primacy in rank-that He has power, dominion and office.

Regarding this very point, William Barclay said,

"This Is a phrase about which we must be careful, for, as it stands in English, it is ambiguous. To say that Jesus Is the beginning of creation could mean, either, that He was the first person to be created, or, that He was the moving cause of all creation, He who began the process of creation and Initiated the work of creation, as R.C. Trench put it, `dynamically the beginning: There is no doubt at all that it Is the second meaning which is Intended here. The word for beginning Is arche. In early Christian writings we read that Satan was the arche of death, that Is to say, that death took its source pad origin in him; or that God Is the arche of all things, that Is, that all things find their beginning and origin fn God" (The Revelation of John, Vol. 1, pp. 177-178).

Lenski said, "By no means does this title mean that the Lord is first creature created by God; He is the uncreated Son of God who is as eternal as the Father" (Interpretation of Revelation, p. 153). A.T. Robertson added, "Not the first of creatures as the Arians and Unitarians do now, but the originating source of creation through whom God works . . . ." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. VI, p. 321).

With these comments before us, we have no difficulty in understanding the reason subsequent translations have translated the passage as follows:

. . . the origin of God's creation. . ." (Williams, Beck and Goodspeed).

. . . the One through whom God began to create. . ." (Twentieth Century New Testament).

. . . the prime source of all God's creation. . ." (New English Bible).

. . . the origin of all that God has created. . ." (Today's English Version).

. . . the Source of God's creation. . ." (New American Bible).

. . . the ruler of God's creation. . ." (New International Version).

This passage, therefore, rather than confirming Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrine assaults it. It places Jesus above God's creation either as its ruler or as its origin.

2. Col. 1:15. This passage describes Jesus as "the first born of all creation" (pratotokos pases ktiseos). Witnesses assert that "firstborn" implies a time when Jesus did not exist. That this is pressing a figure of speech beyond its intended limits is evident from the following explanations of the phrase:

"The main ideas then which the word involves are twofold; the one more directly connected with the Alexandrian conception of the Logos, the other more nearly allied to the Palestinian conception of the Messiah.

(1) Priority to all creation. In other words it declares the absolute pre-existence of the Son. At first sight It might seem that Christ is here regarded as one, though the earliest, of created beings. This interpretation however is not required by the expression itself. The fathers of the fourth century rightly called attention to the fact that the Apostle writes not protoktistos (created first-mw) but prototokos . . . . Nor again does the genitive case necessarily imply that the prototokos Himself belong to the ktisis, as will be shown presently. And if this sense is not required by the words themselves, it is directly excluded by the context. It is inconsistent alike with the universal agency in creation which is ascribed to Him in the, words following, en ajto ektisthe to panta, and with the absolute pre-existence and self-existence which Is claimed for Him just below, autos estin pro panton . . . . .

(2) Sovereignty over all creation. God's first-born is the natural ruler, the acknowledged head, of God's household. The right of primogeniture appertains to Messiah over all created things .... In its Messianic reference this secondary idea of sovereignty predominated in the word prototokos, to that from this point of view prototokos pases ktiseos would mean `Sovereign Lord over all creation by virtue of primogeniture: . . . Nay, so completely might this idea of dominion by virtue of priority eclipse the primary sense of the term 'first-born' in some of its uses, that it is given as a title to God Himself by R. Bechaf on the Pentateuch, fol. 124.4. . .." (J.B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, pp. 146-147).

"The description of Christ as prototokos pases ktiseos in Col. 1:15 obviously finds in the hoti clause of v. 16 Its more precise basis and explanation: Christ is the Mediator at creation to whom all creatures without exception owe their creation . . . Hence prototokos pases ktiseos does not simply denote the priority in time of the pre-existent Lord. If the expression refers to the mediation of creation through Christ, it cannot be saying at the same time that He was created as the first creature" Mittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VI, p. 878).

"The word 'firstborn' is prototokos. The Greek word implied two things, priority to all creation and sovereignty over all creation. In the first meaning we see the absolute pre-existence of the Logos. Since our Lord existed before all created things, He must be uncreated. Since He is uncreated, He is eternal. Since He is eternal, He is God. Since He is God, He cannot be one of the emanations from deity of which the Gnostic speaks, even though He proceeds from God the Father as the Son. In the second meaning we see that He is the natural ruler, the acknowledged head of God's household. Thus again, He cannot be one of the emanations from deity in whom the divine essence is present but diffused. He is Lord of creation.

Translation. Who is a derived reproduction and manifestation of the Deity, the invisible One, the One who has priority to and sovereignty over all creation" (Wuests Word Studies, Kenneth S. Wuest, "Colossians," p. 183).

Again, we see that the very words of the text, rather than proving Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrine assaults it. This passage asserts Jesus' scavereignity over and priority to God's creation.

The next verse in this context confirms this exegesis of "firstborn of all creation." "For in Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created through Him and for Him." All created things came into existence through Jesus Christ. That statement could not be true if the Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrine is so. Because they teach that Jesus is a part of Jehovah's creation, they run into trouble with this verse. How could Jesus have created Himself? Jesus, according to their doctrine, is a created being; this passage asserts that all of God's creation came into existence through Jesus. Hence, their doctrine demands that Jesus have created Himself. When the translators of the New World translation came to this verse, they exercised unwarranted license with the text; indeed, they plainly perverted it. Here is their rendering of this passage:

"He Is the Image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; because by means of Him all other things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through Him and for Him. Also, He is before all other things and by means of him all other things were made to exist" (Col. 1:15-17 in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures).

The blatant addition of "other" on four different occasions in this passage is the most obvious perversion of Scripture to justify doctrinal beliefs which I have ever seen.

3. Phil. 2:6. In Paul's discussion of Jesus' humility in Phil. 2:5-11, we read: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be -grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Though this passage obviously teaches the deity of Jesus Christ because "He existed in the form of God," by the time the Witnesses are through with this passage, it has been twisted to say that the idea of being on an equality with God never occurred to Jesus or, if it did occur to Him, it was quickly dismissed from His mind. On the basis of this passage, Witnesses teach that Jesus, as a created being, never tried to make Himself equal to Jehovah; He never led a rebellion against Jehovah to usurp His throne. Hence, they translate v. 6 as follows: "Who, although He was existing in God's form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that He should be equal to God" (New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures).

The issue on this occasion centers around the proper definition of harpagmos. Thayer,, comments on this passage by saying: (Christ Jesus), who, although (formerly when he was logos asarkos) He bore the form (in which he appeared to the inhabitants of heaven) of God (the sovereign, opposite to morphe doulou) Yet did not think that this, equality with God was to be eagerly clung to or retained" (p. 418 on "morphe" as referred to in his comment on harpagmos).

Wuest states the same facts more completely; he said,

"We must now consider carefully the word `robbery.' The Greek word has two distinct meanings, `a thing unlawfully seized,' and `a treasure to be clutched and retained at all hazards.' When a Greek word has more than one meaning, the rule of Interpretation is to take the one which agrees with the context in which It is found. The passage which we are studying is the illustration of the virtues mentioned in 2:2-4, namely, humility, and self-abnegation for the benefit of others. If our Lord did not consider it a thing to be unlawfully seized to be equal with God in the expression of the divine essence, then He would be asserting His rights to that expression. He would be declaring His rightful ownership of that prerogative. But to assert one's right to a thing does not partake of an attitude of humility and self-abnegation. Therefore, this meaning of the word will not do here. If our Lord did not consider the expression of His divine essence a treasure that it should be retained at all hazards, that would mean that He was willing to waive His rights to that expression if the necessity arose. This is the essence of humility and of self-abnegation. Thus, our second meaning is the one to be used here. Translation. Who has always been and at present continues to subsist in that mode of being in which He gives outward expression of His essential nature, that of Deity, and who did not after weighing the facts, consider It a treasure to be clutched and retained at all hazards, to be equal with Deity (in the expression of the divine essence" (Wuest's Word Studies, 11, p. 64-651).

Similarly, A.T. Robertson added,

"The few examples of harpagmos (Plutarch, etc.) allow it to be understood as equivalent to harpagma, like baptismos and baptisma. That is to say Paul means a prize to be held on to rather than something to be won" (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament, Vol. IV, p. 444).

Once again, we are faced with a passage of Scripture which is used by the Jehovah's Witnesses' to prove that Jesus was not Jehovah but which, when correctly interpreted, proves the Deity of Jesus Christ.

(Concluded Next Week)

Truth Magazine XXI: 15, pp. 227-229
April 14, 1977

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