By Tim Norman
What Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe?
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that Jesus is God (big “G”) as the Father is God. They believe that Jesus is a god (small “g”) only as Satan is a god (2 Cor. 4:4). Jehovah’s Witnesses generally offer the following arguments as “proof” of their conclusion:
Inequality with the Father disproves the deity of the Son. The Watch Tower tract, What Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe?, states, “Since Jesus said that he is ‘God’s Son’ and that the ‘Father sent me forth,’ Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God is greater than Jesus On. 10:36; 6:57). Jesus himself acknowledged: ‘The Father is greater than I am’ On. 14:28); 8:28). Thus we do not believe that Jesus is equal with the Father, as the Trinity doctrine says. Rather, we believe that he was created by God and that he is subordinate to him (Col. 1:15; 1 Cor. 11:3)” (pp. 2-3).
Creation by the Father disproves the deity of the Son. The Watch Tower book, The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, states, “The Bible informs us that he (Jesus, tdn) is God’s ‘firstborn’ Son. This means that he was created before the other sons of God’s family. He is also God’s ‘only-begotten’ Son, in that he is the only one directly created by Jehovah God; all other things came into existence through him as God’s Chief Agent” (p. 47).
Manifestation of the Son disproves his deity. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, John 1:2 “says that the Word was ‘in the beginning with God,’ and verse 18 says that ‘no man hath seen God at any time,’ yet men have seen Jesus Christ. For these reasons, and in full harmony with the Greek text, some translations of verse 1 read: ‘The Word was with God, and the word was divine,’ or was ‘a god,’ that is, the word was a powerful godlike one (AT; NW). So this portion of the Bible is in agreement with all the rest” (Ibid., p. 24).
What Does the Bible Teach About the Deity of Christ?
Before negating these Jehovah’s Witnesses’ arguments, let me first affirm that Jesus is God (big “G”). As the Father is God, so Jesus is God. Consider. . .
1. The teaching of Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be called “Mighty God, Everlasting Father” (9:6). (The Jehovah’s Witnesses try to eliminate the force of Isaiah 9:6 by saying it refers to Jesus “as a Mighty God, but not the Almighty God, Jehovah” (“Make Sure of All Things Hold Fast to What Is Fine,” p. 282). First, Isaiah 9:6 says that Jesus is “Mighty God,” not “a Mighty God.” Second, the Hebrew phrase translated “Mighty God” in Isaiah 9:6 is also found in Isaiah 10:21 and there it does refer to Jehovah. Thus, Jehovah is both “Almighty” and “Mighty” and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ distinction between the two words is wholly without merit. “Mighty” can’t mean less than “Almighty” and “Mighty.” Even God cannot be almighty and less than almighty at the same time. To my thinking, this quibble says volumes about the weakness of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ position on the deity of Christ. Isaiah also prophesied that Jesus would be called “Immanuel” (7:14), which translated means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).
2. The teaching of the apostles. When properly translated, John writes this of Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28). While these were Thomas’ words, they were still true for Jesus responded with approval saying, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29). Peter wrote to those “who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1).
Paul calls Jesus “the eternally blessed God” (Rom. 9:5). Paul commanded the Ephesians elders to “shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). He told Titus that all men should be “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13).
Prior to his incarnation, Jesus was “in the form of God” (Phil. 2:6). He came in the likeness of men because he “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,” or as the American Standard Version renders it, He “counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil. 2:6). So prior to the incarnation, Jesus was God as the Father is God. After the incarnation, Jesus was still God. While Jesus gave up some things in coming to earth, he did not give up his deity! Paul rightly warns, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:8-9). Make no mistake, “God was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16).
Paul writes in Philippians 2:11, “Every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Robert Harkrider’s comment on this passage is illuminating. “The Greek word translated `Lord’ . . . is ‘kudos.’ It is noteworthy that the New World Translation (the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ `Bible,’ tdn) uniformly renders `kurios’ as `Jehovah.’ However, in Philippians 2:11 they break their own rule and translate it `Lord.’ Does anyone wonder why they reject their own rule here?” (Basic Bible Doctrine, Book II, Part 4, p. 64)
The teaching of the Father. In Hebrews 1:8 the Father says to the Son, “Your throne, 0 God, is forever and ever.”
The teaching of Jesus. Jesus said of himself in Revelation 1:17, “I am the First and the Last.” With these words, Jesus affirmed his deity for the same phrase is used in Isaiah 44:6 this way, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts; ‘I am the First and I am the Last; besides me there is no God.”‘
In spite of this and other evidence, the Jehovah’s Witnesses still deny that Jesus ever said he was God (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, p. 39). They are wrong. In John 5:17 Jesus said, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Because of these words, the Jews sought all the more to kill Jesus. Why? John, not the Jews, said that by such a statement Jesus was “making himself equal with God” (Jn. 5:18). In John 8:58 Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” With these words, the Jews took up stones to throw at Jesus. They knew Jesus wasn’t merely claiming to “have been” before Abraham, as the New World Translation mistranslates. The Jews knew “I am” was the name of God (Exod. 3:14). By calling himself, “J am,” the Jews realized that Jesus was again making himself equal with God. Finally, in John 10:30 Jesus said, “I and My Father are one.” Once more, the Jews took up stones to stone him. Contrary to what the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, Jesus was not merely saying that he “had a glorious existence long before he was born as a human on earth” (Truth, p. 47), or that he was “in full harmony with his Father” (Ibid., p. 23). No, unlike the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Jews knew exactly what Jesus was saying. As they told Him, “For a good work we do not stone you, but for blasphemy, and because you, being a man, make yourself God” On. 10:33).
Jesus also taught he was God by accepting the worship of men. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was “born as a human Son of God; not a God-man” (Make Sure, p. 283). Paul, a human son of God, not a God-man, said to those in Lystra who intended to worship him, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them” (Acts 14:5). Peter, also a human son of God, not a God-man, said to Cornelius, who had just fallen down at Peter’s feet to worship him, “Stand up; I myself am also a man” (Acts 10:26).
Jehovah’s Witnesses also teach that in heaven, Jesus is “there known as Michael” (Ibid., p. 288). Thus, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus was an angel before and after the incarnation. Regarding the worship of angels, Paul wrote in Colossians 2:18, “Let no one defraud you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” When John fell down to worship the angel which God sent to show his servants the things which must shortly take place (Rev. 22:6,8), the angel rebuked John saying, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Rev. 22:9).
Unlike Paul and Peter, and unlike angels, Jesus accepted the worship of men and angels. Read Matthew 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:9; Mark 5:6; Luke 24:52; John 9:38; Hebrews 1:6. Make no mistake, Jesus was not simply accepting the respect or veneration that one man or angel might pay to another man or angel. Jesus was accepting the worship men and angels offer God. In fact, Jesus demanded such worship. He said in John 5:23, “All should honor
“All should honor the Son just as
they honor the Father (Jn. 5:23). Yet, Jesus also said, ‘You
shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall
serve’ (Matt. 4:10). Since it is wrong to worship men or
angels, either the Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong and Jesus
is God, or Jesus sinned in accepting worship.”
the Son just as they honor the Father.” Yet, Jesus also said in Matthew 4:10, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve.” Since it is wrong to worship men or angels, either the Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong and Jesus is God, or Jesus sinned in accepting worship. Obviously, the former is the only possible conclusion.
Answering the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Arguments
Inequality with the Father does not disprove the deity of the Son. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, to insist that Jesus is God when there is inequality between the Father and Son, is tantamount to denying monotheism and teaching polytheism. Wrong! Admittedly, there are differences between the Father and the Son. However, these differences do not deny the deity of Christ. The husband is head of the wife (Eph. 5:23), yet the wife is fully human. The Father is head of the Son (1 Cor. 11:3), yet the Son is fully God (Col. 2:9). This is not polytheism. As there is only one true humanity, but billions of human beings, so there is only one true God, but three deities. No human being is any more or less human than any other human being, yet there are differences between all human beings. Likewise, no deity is any more or less God than any other deity, yet there are differences between all deities.
Robert Harkrider’s comment is helpful, “Christians believe one divine nature is revealed in three personalities. We may not fully understand how that is possible, and in-deed we admit difficulty in explaining it. Many things are difficult to understand (e.g., light, gravity, etc.), but we do not stop believing because we do not understand everything about them” (Doctrine, p. 62). Truly, Christians must accept what the Bible says, and when we do not understand, instead of creating God in our own image, we must honor this truth, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deut. 29:29).
The Son was created by the Father.
A. Answering in general. It is written of Jesus in John 1:3, “All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made that was made.” Surprisingly, the New World Translation is equally clear, “All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” I enjoy Roy Deaver’s analysis, “All things that were created were created by him — by means of Christ. Now, if he is a created being he had part in creating himself. But, if he had part in creating himself then he existed before he created himself. And, if he existed before he created himself he could not be a created being!” (The Spiritual Sword, October 1974, p. 6)
Colossians 1:16 confirms that Jesus is not a created being. It is written there of Jesus, “By him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth. . . All things were created through him.” Since the Father and Son are both in heaven (Mk. 16:19), logic forces us to conclude that Jesus has always been. Otherwise, we would have to accept the preposterous conclusion that Jesus not only created himself, but the Father as well.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the force of this argument. In their New World Translation, Colossians 1:16 reads, “By means of him all (other) things were created in the heavens and upon the earth. . . All (other) things have been created through him.” The insertion of the word “other” is the height of intellectual dishonesty. There is absolutely no textual or contextual basis for the addition. This only means the word “other” is supplied to prop up the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ false doctrine regarding the deity of Christ. As Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:20).
Still other passages prove that Jesus is not a created being. In Isaiah 9:6 Jesus is called, “Everlasting Father.” God spoke to Bethlehem of Jesus in Micah 5:2 saying, “Out of you shall come forth to me the one to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
B. Answering the misuse of “firstborn.” Jehovah’s Witnesses misuse several passages attempting to prove Jesus is a created being. For example, Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus is “the firstborn over all creation.” Jehovah’s Witnesses take this to mean that Jesus was created before the other sons of God’s family. They are wrong. In this verse firstborn cannot mean first created. I like Lightfoot’s comment, “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. And if this sense is not required by the words themselves, it is directly excluded by the context” (Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, pp. 146-147). The con-text which excludes the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ twist of Colossians 1:15 is Colossians 1:16. The very next verse says that by Jesus “all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth… All things were created through him.” As we have already shown, this proves Jesus cannot be the first creation, for even Jesus could not have created himself.
In Colossians 1:15, “firstborn” may mean one of two things. First, “firstborn” may be referring to preeminence. Moses told Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, `Israel is My son, My firstborn”‘ (Exod. 4:22). Was Israel the world’s first nation? No, that is not the point at all. Israel was firstborn because of its preeminence. God said of David, “I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psa. 89:27). Was David the world’s first king? No, David was firstborn because of his preeminence. So, does Colossians 1:15 teach that Jesus is the first creation? No, Jesus is firstborn because “all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16) and because in “all things” he has “the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). To me, Barclay captured the gist of the verse with this comment: “When Paul says of the Son that he is the firstborn of all creation, he means that the highest honour which creation holds belongs to him” (The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians [Revised Edition], p. 119). In fact, the label “firstborn” had so entirely become a title of sovereignty that even ancient Jewish writers called God, “Firstborn of the world” (The Pulpit Commentary, Colossians, p. 8).
There is, however, a second possibility. “Firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 may be referring to Jesus’ resurrection. Colossians 1:18 speaks of Jesus being “the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may have the preeminence.” A similar reference is found in Revelation 1:5. Paul teaches elsewhere, “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . In Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:20,22-23). Thus, Colossians 1:15 might be saying that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead over all creation. Even so, the emphasis may still be on Jesus’ preeminence over all who will be resurrected, rather than on Jesus’ priority of resurrection. Either way, however, there is still no support in Colossians 1:15 for the misguided notion that Jesus is a created being.
C. Answering the misuse of “only begotten Son.” Jehovah’s Witnesses misuse passages such as John 1:14,18; 3:16,18 and 1 John 4:9 which refer to Jesus as God’s “only begotten Son.” Jehovah’s Witnesses take this phrase to mean that Jesus is the only one directly created by Jehovah God, whereas all other things came into existence through Jesus as God’s chief agent. Again, they are wrong. These passages say nothing about the creation of Christ. The Greek word translated “begotten” in these passages is monogenes. James D. Bales quoted James Oliver Buswell, Jr. who made this helpful comment: “Careful lexicographical studies prove beyond a question that the word `monogenes’ is not derived from the root `gennao,’ to beget or generate, but is derived from `genos,’ kind or class. The word therefore means `in a class by himself,’ the only one of his kind,’ or in other words `unique”‘ (Sword, p. 1).
In Hebrews 11:17, Isaac is called Abraham’s “only begot-ten (monogenes) son.” Clearly, this phrase does not mean that Isaac was Abraham’s only son. Abraham begat Ishmael by Hagar long before he begat Isaac by Sarah. Rather, the phrase “only begotten son” simply affirms that Isaac was unique, and truly he was unique. Of him alone did God say to Abraham, “In Isaac your seed shall be called” (Heb. 11:18). When used of Jesus, then, the phrase “only begot-ten Son” does not suggest that Jesus was the only thing God ever directly created. Rather, it simply affirms that Jesus was unique, and truly he was unique. Of Jesus alone can it ever be said, “The Word became flesh” On. 1:14).
Another thought. The Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that Jesus was created, and cannot, therefore, be God. Now, do not misunderstand me. I believe that Jesus has always been just as the Father has always been. However, if I grant for argument’s sake that Jesus was created, this question re-mains: Why couldn’t Jesus still be God? After all, if human beings can create after their own kind, why couldn’t deity do the same? The Jehovah’s Witnesses assume being created precludes Godhood. How do they know that? Where is the book, chapter and verse? Jehovah’s Witnesses admit that Jesus created the world. Thus, Romans 1:25 would not preclude the deity of Christ. Simply saying the Father has always been does not prove being created precludes Godhood. Consider this analogy: Human beings have always been born on earth. Does that prove a child born in space would not be a human being? Of course not. Here is my point. By simply saying Jesus was created, the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t disprove the deity of Christ. To me, it is one thing to say Jesus was created and another thing entirely to say Jesus deserves no more honor than angels or men. While I don’t believe either statement, I fail to see how granting the former would demand acceptance of the latter. Since we don’t know all the prerequisites for Godhood, let’s leave such secret things to God.
Answering the misuse of “the Beginning of the creation of God.” In Revelation 3:14, Jesus calls himself “the Beginning of the creation of God.” Jehovah’s Witnesses cite this verse to “prove” that Jesus had a beginning. I agree with Wayne Jackson who said, “It demonstrates nothing of the kind! The term `beginning’ in this verse is the Greek `arche.’ It is defined by standard Greek authorities as: `that by which anything begins to be, the origin, active cause’ (Thayer, Greek Lexicon, p. 77), or `the first cause’ (Arndt & Gingrich, Greek Lexicon, p. 111). Abbott-Smith says, `of Christ as the uncreated principle, the active cause of creation’ (Greek Lexicon, p. 62). A.T. Robertson says `not the first of creatures as the Arians held and Unitarians do now, but the originating source of creation through whom God works. . .’ (Word Pictures, VI, p. 321)” (Questions for Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 64). So, Revelation 3:14 is not saying the Father began the creation by first making Jesus. Rather, it teaches that Jesus set in motion the creation of God.
Wayne Jackson also makes this point: “In Revelation 22:13, Christ is designated the `beginning and the end.’ If `beginning’ means Christ had an origin, or there was time when he was not, does `end’ mean his existence will eventually be terminated?!” (Ibid.) An excellent question.
Answering the misuse of Proverbs 8:22-31. The New World Translation renders Proverbs 8:22 as follows: “Jehovah himself produced me as the beginning of his way, the earliest of his achievements of long ago.” Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus is speaking in Proverbs 8:22. Thus, they use the passage to “prove” that Jesus is a created being. Yet again, they are wrong. First, in Proverbs 8:22 wisdom, not Jesus, is speaking. See Proverbs 8:12. Second, wisdom is not a real person. However, if we assume a per-son called wisdom literally spoke, then the person speaking in Proverbs 8:22 was a woman (Prov. 1:20-21; 9:1-3). Since Jesus is a man, even though he too is called the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24,30), he could not have been speaking in Proverbs 8:22. Third, according to the New World Translation the next verse says, “From time indefinite I was installed, from the start, from times earlier than the earth.” I believe this passage teaches that wisdom has always existed. Otherwise, either Jehovah had a start or there was a time when Jehovah was not wise. To take figurative language literally is truly a dangerous practice.
3. Manifestation of the Son does not disprove his deity. Jehovah’s Witnesses argue as follows: “No one has seen God at any time” On. 1:18). People have seen Jesus. Thus,
Jesus can’t be God. If that is sound reasoning, then this syllogism must also be accepted: Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). People have seen Jesus. Thus, people have seen the Father. In both cases the reasoning is the same, yet the major premise of the first argument is diametrically opposed to the conclusion of the second argument. Obviously, there is a problem with the logic. The Bible does not contradict itself.
Contrary to what the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, John 1:18 does not justify mistranslating John I:1. Yes, John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time,” but 1 Timothy 3:16 also says, “God was manifested in the flesh.” In fact, as we have already shown, the Scriptures repeatedly affirm the deity of Christ. So how do we reconcile these passages with John 1:18? Easily, and without doing any disservice to the text. While no one has seen God the Father, many people have seen God the Son. Thus, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1).
The New World Translation mistranslates John 1:1 as follows: “In (the) beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” But it should come as no surprise that this rendering supports the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ assertion that Jesus is not God (big “G”), but only a god (small “g”) as Satan is a god.
According to Roy Deaver, “In the statement ‘and the Word was with God’ the word ‘God’ is preceded (in the Greek) by the definite article. In the statement ‘and the Word was God’ the word `God’ is not preceded by the definite article. They (the Jehovah’s Witnesses, tdn) insist that they are, therefore, justified in translating as they do” (Sword, p. 8). No, they are not. Authorities in the Greek language tell us that use of “God” with the definite article stresses the identity or personality of the God, whereas using “God” without the definite article stresses the quality, essence, or character of being God. If I say, “Mob Dick was with the classic, and Mob Dick was classic,” would I be saying “the classic” is the only classic? Of course not. In fact, I would be saying Mob Dick was equally classic. Yes, the Word was with the God. Which? The Father. But, the Word was equally God. Interestingly, in the Greek the definite article does appear in John 20:28. Literally, Thomas called Jesus “the God of me.” Jesus pronounced blessing on all who so believe. Thus, even according the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ view of John 1:1, Jesus is God (big “G”).
To be consistent with its position on John 1:1, while it does not, the New World Translation should render Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of a god,” and Philippians 2:11 should read,and that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of a god the Father.” In both verses, “God” appears without the definite article. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, seem to understand the basic function of the Greek definite article everywhere except in their mistranslating of John 1:1. Roy Deaver’s comment is an eye opener: “In their reasoning with regard to translating ‘theos’ without the article the Witnesses are terribly inconsistent. The word `God’ (theos) — without the article — appears in John 1:6,12,13,18. In these verses they translate with the capital ‘G,’ and in no instance do they give ‘a god”‘ (Ibid.). How do we explain such blatant inconsistency? Only one way. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society desires to propagate error rather than translate truth.
With love for all, and malice towards none, I affirm that Jesus is God (big “G”). To me, a dogmatic denial of the deity of Christ, given the overwhelming scriptural evidence supporting his Godhood, can be explained in only one of two ways. Either there is ignorance of the truth, or no love for the truth. If you don’t love truth, remember, it is truth that makes you free (Jn. 8:32). Therefore I plead with you, “Buy the truth, and do not sell it” (Prov. 23:23). Also remember, the Bible is the source of truth (2 Tim. 3:16-17), not the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. If you do love truth, yet disagree with me, 1 urge you to be like the fair-minded Bereans who listened to Paul and Silas with all readiness, and search the Scriptures to find out whether these things I have written are so (Acts 17:11).
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 8, p. 16-20
April 15, 1993