Is Jesus God? (3): An Answer to the Jehovah's Witness' Doctrine on Deity of Christ
Is Jesus Eternal?
If Jesus is eternal then he is God. Deity must by definition be eternal and all that is eternal must be Deity. We have seen that the Bible says nothing about Jesus having had a beginning, but does the Bible clearly set forth the doctrine that Jesus is eternal?
In John 8:58 Jesus boldly proclaimed that he was of timeless existence, i.e., eternal:
Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.
Jesus declared that Abraham had been born at some point in time, but that he himself had always existed. The Jews knew that Jesus was claiming eternal existence, i.e., Deity, so they took up stones to stone him, just as they would do later in John 10:33 when they said,
For a good work we do not stone you, but for blasphemy; and because you, being a man, make yourself out to be God.
The Witnesses have tried for years to avoid the force of John 8:58. In their New World Translation (1951 ed.) they declared that eimi, the Greek verb form for "I am," was in the Greek imperfect indefinite tense, and thus translated it "I have been."(1) There is no such tense in the Greek language! (They have since corrected their error of Greek grammar, but not their translation.) They say that Jesus was simply speaking of "his pre-human existence," not in the eternal sense but in the sense that he was "alive before Abraham was born."(2)
However, eimi ("I am") is in the present tense, which in the Greek language indicates continuous action. Jesus said that before Abraham was born (aorist tense, i.e., one time event), I am (present tense, i.e., continuous action). If Jesus had merely wanted to say that he came into existence before Abraham, he could have said it quite plainly with the perfect tense (past event with a continuing result). But by using the present tense Jesus claimed that he was and is and always will be in existence - he is eternal. As Westcott notes, ". . . there is in the phrase the contrast between the created and the uncreated, and the temporal and the eternal."(3)
This becomes even more apparent when the name "Jehovah" in Exodus 3:14 is understood.
And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, I AM has sent me to you."
Jehovah, God's self-assigned name of eternal existence, is translated in the LXX (Greek OT) as ego eimi ho on ("I am the one who is"). Therefore, considering the context and wording of John 8:58, Jesus' description of himself as ego eimi is a claim of Deity. Even the Jews understood this, and attempted to stone him.
Continued searching of the Scriptures shows that Jesus Christ categorically stated his eternal existence as Deity. He declared himself to be "the first and the last" (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13) and "the Alpha and the Omega" (Rev. 22:13), phrases which Jehovah used to describe himself in the Old Testament (Isa. 44:6; 48:12; 41:4) and in the New Testament (Rev. 1:8). Jesus describes himself with the same words and thus declares his timeless existence and Deity.
However, the Witnesses tell us that Revelation 22:13 is not spoken by Christ but by the Father.(4) Let the reader be the judge. Verse 12 says, "Behold I am coming quickly" and verse 20 says, "Amen. Come Lord Jesus." Moreover, verse 16 says, "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify." How can we believe the Witnesses when the Scriptures are so clear?
The Witnesses also tell us that only Revelation 1:17 and Revelation 2:8 are references to Christ being "the first and the last," and that the meaning of the phrase in these passages is different from the meaning when used of Jehovah in Revelation 1:8. They say that when the phrase describes Christ it refers to the resurrection, Christ being the "firstborn from the dead" (Col. 1:18), but when it describes Jehovah it refers to timeless existence.(5) But there is no basis in Scripture for assigning these differences of meaning. Thus, the Witnesses have manipulated the Scriptures again to serve their own bias and doctrine.
John 1:1 is the definitive text in the biblical doctrine of the Deity of Jesus Christ:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
This passage simply and forcibly declares that the eternal Word (Jesus) is Deity. Moreover, the next few verses in John I declare that Jesus created the world (only Deity has such power). But the Witnesses have translated John 1:1, "In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god" (emp. mine,jc). They argue for their translation on the basis of John's use and non-use of the Greek definite article.(6) They also argue that since John 1:1 shows that the Word was with God, he could not be God but was 'a god,' or 'divine.'"(7) But there are simple and basic problems with both of these arguments.
The Witnesses believe that the Word was a person of an inferior Divine quality. They reason that since the definite article "the" is missing before "God" in the phrase "and the Word was God," they have the right to supply the indefinite article "a." So the Word, they say, was "a god," but not Almighty God (Jehovah). But the indefinite article "a" does not exist in the Koine Greek language, so the context and rules of grammar determine whether or not it should be supplied in English. It is not always to be supplied, and in many cases, it must not be. In the case of John 1:1, the indefinite article must not be supplied because such would violate the rules of Greek grammar, the immediate context, and the rest of the Bible's teaching.
The Witnesses go to great lengths to argue that John 1:1 is speaking of the Word's quality of Divinity, as though such a truth would prove that the translation must be "and the Word was a god." They quote the Journal of Biblical Literature to show that expressions "with an anarthrous (no article) predicate preceding the verb, are primarily qualitative in meaning"(8) Now this is a valid rule of Greek grammar (see Green's Rule(9)), but the Witnesses gain nothing in arguing for their translation with it. If the Word has the quality of Divinity then he is God, not "a god." The Old Testament tells us that Jehovah is the only true eternal Deity (see discussion below on Isa. 43:10). To say that the Word is Divine is to say that he is Deity, which is exactly what the verse says. John 1:1 can not be translated "and the Word was a god" because the Bible says there is no such thing as an inferior Deity. There is no Deity other than the one true Deity. In fact, the translation best in compliance with the rules of Greek grammar, the immediate context, and the rest of the teaching of the Bible is "and the Word was Divine." Many translations simply and accurately say, "and the Word was God."
The Witnesses try to explain away their conflict with the Bible's plain statements of only one Deity. They point to passages that speak of angels, Satan, and imperfect men as "gods," and reason that Jesus, who is higher than the angels, "can be and is 'a god'."(10) None of these passages even remotely hint at the concept of a Deity of a lower nature. These passages use the terms "gods" figuratively and accommodatively to refer to a given position of importance, not to a Divine Nature. Angels, Satan, and men do not have a "Divine Nature" and are not eternal (cf. Rom. 1:20; Acts 17:29), but in the eternal Word "all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (see below on Col. 2:9).
The Witnesses choose to ignore the plain Bible teaching that Jesus is the "Son of God" who called himself "the Alpha and the Omega" and "the first and the last"; he is the eternal "I AM" who never refused worship as God; he is the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" who gave up "the form of God" to pay the price for our sins. How can the Witnesses dare to explain away the apostle Thomas' exclamation that Jesus was his Lord and his God (Jn. 20:28) by saying, "To Thomas, Jesus was like 'a god.'"(11) What nonsense! Thomas had come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, a Divine person, Deity in bodily form, and thus called him God without being corrected by Jesus. Indeed, through Jesus "God was manifested in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16, NKJV).
Second, it is unnecessary to conclude that because the Word was with God the Word could not be God. The Witnesses assume that God (Deity) must be one person (see earlier discussion on this). They reason from an untrue premise and therefore reach an untrue conclusion. John 1:1 says that the Word was with Deity and was Divine. He was unified with, present with, and one with Deity, and was, in fact, Divine. Friend, you are with humanity and you are human. You are not the only person of the one humanity, but you are human. The Word is with Deity and he is Divine. He is not the only person of the one Deity, but he is Divine. Such is the simple force of John's statement, and it is in complete harmony with the rest of the teaching of the New Testament.
Please consider also the following passages that teach that John 1:1 can not be translated, "and the Word was a god."
We mentioned above the Bible teaching that Deity is defined in Jehovah God. There are not two deities, one the Almighty God and the other an inferior deity. All there is of Deity, all Divinity that exists, is defined in Jehovah God, as Jehovah says in Isaiah 43:10,
. . . before Me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after Me.
Jesus cannot be "a god" or "a deity" because there is no Deity other than Jehovah. Isaiah 43:10 says there cannot be two Deities. Be sure that the Witnesses, try as they might, cannot explain away the truth of Isaiah 43:10, even though, ironically, it is the text that they take their name "Jehovah's Witnesses" from. We must accept that Jehovah is the old covenant name given to the Jews by the one eternal Deity, who in the new covenant is declared to be the three persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).
Paul, with the purpose of elevating Jesus to his deserved position in the minds of men, declared in Colossians 2:9, "in him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form." By using the word theotes ("Godhead" KJV), Paul allowed the strongest Greek word possible to emphasize that Jesus Christ fully possesses the nature, essence, and totality of Deity.(12) Interestingly, Paul used weaker forms of the same word to describe Deity in Acts 17:29 (theion) and Romans 1:20 (theiotes), which are also translated "Godhead" in the KJV but are best translated "divine nature" as in the NASB. But by using the abstract form of theos in Colossians 2:9, Paul made as strong a statement as he could have made to declare that Jesus is Deity, fully and in bodily form. (Remember Jesus had said in John 14:9, "He who has seen me has seen the Father," and Paul had said of Jesus in Colossians 1:15, "He is the image of the invisible God.")
Philippians 2:6-8 closely rivals John 1:1 and Colossians 2:9 as definitive declarations that Jesus Christ is a person in the Godhead.
Who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself. .
Paul's main point in Philippians 2:6-8 is that, even though Jesus had all the glory, rights, privileges and powers of Deity, he became a lowly, sacrificial servant of mankind. Therefore, Jesus shows us how to be sacrificial servants of our fellow man. Jesus humbly emptied himself of his glory as God (John 17:5), not his rights, privileges, and powers, in order to take upon himself flesh and blood so that all men might be saved. He did not cease to be Deity, but rather he ceased to exist in the glorious form of Deity in order to take on the lowly form of a servant.
However, the Witnesses say that Jesus never had equality with God. They say that Jesus was an inferior god who "gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God."(13) The Witnesses argue that Jesus only had the nature of God, that is, that he was deity but was not quite equal with Almighty God.
But the whole point of the passage is that Jesus was humble - not because he refrained from seizing what didn't belong to him, but because he willingly gave up, for the sake of others, that which he himself possessed! (Moreover, in view of Isaiah 43:10, it is impossible for Jesus to have been "a deity." There is no other Deity than Jehovah. Jesus is either a person of the one Deity or he isn't any deity at all.)
Now what exactly did Jesus give up? The passage says that Jesus existed in the form of God, but gave up his equality with God. What does that mean? Did he give up his Deity? Did he cease to be God while he was in the flesh? No. Colossians 2:9 says,
"For in him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form."
Jesus was God manifested in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). Jesus accepted worship as Deity while on earth (John 20:28); Jesus declared himself to be Deity while on earth (John 8:58). Moreover, Jesus' sacrifice is efficacious only if it is the infinite God paying the price for the souls of all men.
John 17:5 declares what Jesus gave up when he became flesh - his glory:
And now glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.
Jesus gave up his equal glory with God in order to become a servant of man. He did not empty himself of Deity, he emptied himself of glory. He emptied himself of "the form of God" (his glorified existence in heaven) in order to take "the form of a servant" (his lowly existence on earth). When the Word became flesh he was Immanuel ("God With Us," Matt. 1:23). Jesus could boldly say "I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10:30) and "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn. 14:9).
The subject of knowing how Jesus could be both God and man is difficult for the finite mind. We must seek only conclusive arguments and plain statements of Scripture which will clarify the meaning of those passages which are more difficult. And we certainly must not elevate our human wisdom above God's Word so that we base our teachings on our own speculations.
All Jehovah's Witnesses would do well, with their entire body of doctrine, to stand back and evaluate what they are being taught. Compared with the clearest of Bible teaching, the Witnesses' doctrines are contradictory at best and blasphemous at worst.
The entire body of Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrine is the product of men who belong to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. I appeal to all Jehovah's Witnesses to renounce the teachings of men and accept only the clear teachings of the Bible.
Finally, let us who think we stand take heed lest we fall. Especially let us who are preachers of God's Word approach the subject of the Deity of Christ with humility and reverence. Let us allow the Bible to speak for itself, and let us be silent in our own speculations.
1. New World Translation Of The Greek Scriptures (1951 edition) 312.
2. Should You Believe In The Trinity? 26.
3. Westcott, B. F., The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973) 140.
4. Gruss, Edmond Charles, Apostles Of Denial. Rev. ed. (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1975) 126.
6. Should You Believe In The Trinity? 27.
7. Should You Believe In The Trinity? 27.
8. Should You Believe In The Trinity? 27.
9. Green, S., Handbook to the Grammar of the Greek Testament (London: Religious Tract Society) 178.
10. Should You Believe In The Trinity? 27-28.
11. Should You Believe In The Trinity? 27.
12. B.B. Warfield, "Godhead," International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Ed. James Orr (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950) 1270.
13. New World Translation Of The Greek Scriptures 589.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 9, pp. 268-270