So, it’s been a while since my last post, and I’ve been busy on other areas of life, but I thought this was worth posting.
Last week, my wife and I met with a couple of Jehovah’s witnesses, and of course the subject of the Deity of Christ came up. I noticed a typed up paper in their materials titled If Jesus is God. This caught my eye and I asked if I could have it. They had multiple copies, so they let me take one home. It was a list of questions with Scripture references that the woman I was meeting with said had been put together by a friend of hers. It was not an official Watchtower publication, but its argumentation is certainly indicative of how the Watchtower Society argues against the Deity of Christ.
I told her I would type up answers to the questions and bring it back at our next meeting, so we could discuss it. I thought I’d share them with you, too. So here they are.
1) Why is he called the “firstborn of all creation” and “only begotten son”? Col. 1:15, Rev. 3:14, John 1:14
The concepts of “firstborn” and “only begotten” as found in Scripture are not exactly the same as what those words mean to us in English. While they often are understood literally, they are also understood to mean “heir”, “pre-eminent one”, or “unique one” Both terms refer to Jesus’ place as the pre-eminent one or ruler of God’s kingdom. This type of usage is common in Scripture, as can be shown by a few examples:
Exodus 4:22-23 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'”
Jeremiah 31:9 With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back,I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble,for I am a father to Israel,and Ephraim is my firstborn.
Hebrews 11:17-18 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “That in Isaac shall thy seed be called…”
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only (monogenes, also translated “only begotten”) God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
The passages cited in the question can be understood this way, except for Revelation 3:14, which says, “beginning of creation”. The word for “beginning” also can be understood as “origin” or “source”. There is nothing in the Greek that forces one to conclude from the passage that Jesus Himself is created. Instead, it points to the fact that He is the Creator.
2) Why did he say he did not come of his “own initiative” but was “sent forth”? John 8:42
Unlike the first question, this is less of a misunderstanding of biblical terms than a misunderstanding of what the doctrine of the Trinity actually teaches. Trinitarians believe that there is one eternal, infinite, all-powerful God, within whose being exist three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal Persons. This equality is one of nature. In other words, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal as to the fact that they share Godhood equally. There is subordination and submission, however, in terms of authority and roles filled by each divine Person. Only the Father is said to predestine. Only the Son is said to have “become flesh” (John 1:14). Only the Spirit is said to give spiritual gifts and seal believers for eternal life. The distinction of the Son and Father allow for the fact that Jesus submits to the Father and does His will. This is amplified by the fact that Jesus is also fully human. As a man, he does what one would expect a perfect, sinless man to do, such as serving and worshipping God, praying, and submitting to the will of God.
3) Why did Jesus not know the “day and hour” of the Great Tribulation, while his Father did know? Matt. 24:36
Jesus, being fully man as well as fully God, has fully human characteristics as well as fully divine characteristics. Scripture speaks of these two natures by attributing to Jesus seemingly contradictory attributes. Consider the following:
Because Scripture speaks so clearly about these two natures, we must believe it, even though it is difficult to picture such a thing in our heads. God is utterly unique, and our experience and limited faculties can only take us so far in understanding Him. Because He is unique, the incarnation, in which God took on a human nature, is also unique. Analogies fail us when we try to understand His nature perfectly, but we can affirm what He has affirmed. Jesus is both God and man.
4) Whom did Jesus speak to in prayer?
Again, this shows a misunderstanding of the Trinity, which is common, not only to groups that deny it, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but also to many Christians who have not sought with much diligence to understand the Trinity truly, and have come to see the God as being only one Person, filling several roles, rather than being three Persons in constant communion and sharing one Being.
The simple answer to this question is that Jesus, being fully human and being a separate Person, prayed to His Father, another divine Person, whom Jesus worshipped and had communion with as we would expect any perfect man to do. A right understanding of the Trinity renders this question misplaced.
It would be right to ask a modalist, who denies the Trinity by insisting that the Father and Son are the same Person, how it is that Jesus prays to Himself. Trinitarians do not believe that Jesus is praying to Himself.
5) Why did Jesus say “the Father is greater than I am”? John 14:28
This question should be answerable from the information given so far, just by our correct understanding of the Trinity. Jesus occupies a subordinate position of authority, but not nature. As such, He can say that the Father is “greater”, just as I could say that my employer, or the President of the United States, is “greater” than I am, even though I am equal to both of them in nature. We are human beings, all.
Indeed the Greek term, meizon, is used to indicate greater degree, not usually to indicate different, and better, nature. Meizon can be used to indicate nature in some cases, though, and so we must allow for that possibility in this verse. Even if Jesus is speaking of nature in this verse, he can easily be speaking of the fact that He is fully human, and as such has a nature inferior to the Father’s which is divine. This does no damage to the teaching of the Trinity, however, since Jesus can speak from His humanity without diminishing His Deity.
I would say that the first interpretation is probably correct, since there is another Greek term, kreitton, which speaks of the nature of a thing and is used that way throughout Hebrews to speak of Jesus compared to angels (Heb. 1:4), and to speak of the new covenant compared with the old. (Heb. 7:19, 22; 8:6; 9:23) Hebrews also speaks of a better resurrection. (11:35). If Jesus had wanted to express that the Father is greater in every way, this word would have done the job far better than the one He used.
6) Who spoke to Jesus at the time of his baptism, saying “this is my son”? Matt. 3:17
It was the Father who spoke. No problem arises unless one misunderstands that the Father and Son are distinct divine Persons.
7) How can he be raised to a higher position? Phil. 2:9,10
Philippians 2:6-11, is known as the Carmen Christi, and is thought to be an early Christian hymn, predating the writing of Philippians itself. Paul quotes it here, so let’s look at the whole passage.
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Notice that Jesus was “in the form of God”, and then took on the “form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus’ nature changed from that of God to man right there in this verse. In fact, the NIV translates this passage “in very nature God” and “the very nature of a servant”. This passage beautifully shows the depth to which Jesus humbled Himself. He went from the height of Godhood to the depth of humanness, even to the lowliest of deaths.
So, when it says that God “exalted him”, it speaks in reference to that humility. Today, Jesus the man is enthroned in heaven, exalted to the point of having the name above every name. Which is why we confess that Jesus is Lord. He has always been God, but after His obedience, He became the man on the throne of God.
8) How can he also be the “mediator between God and man”? 1Tim. 2:5
This verse calls Jesus “the man Christ Jesus”. Does this do any damage to the doctrine of the Trinity as we’ve understood it? Not at all. Jesus is still fully human and in that capacity is our mediator. It might be asked, what better mediator between man and God than one who is both God and man?
9) How did he “appear before the person of God for us”? Heb. 9:24
This answer is basically the same as the previous one. Jesus, the human mediator, appears before the Father for us. It should be noted here that the Bible is not a theology textbook, and shouldn’t be treated as such. It does not always use terms in a technical fashion, and shouldn’t be expected to. When speaking of the Trinity, we mean specific things by terms such as “Father”, “Son”, “God”, “Person”, “Being”, and such. Often, the Bible uses terms in different ways that have to be determined by context. To say that Jesus appears in the presence of “God” does not mean that he appears separately before the whole Trinity, but that he appears before the Father. In some contexts, “God” refers to the whole Trinity, but in others, it may only refer to one Person, such as the Father or Son. When we say that Scripture teaches the Trinity, we do not necessarily mean that it teaches it using the exact same words that we use in a technical sense. Much confusion results from trying to pigeon-hole biblical statements with technical rigidity. Trinitarians do not do this.
10) Why did Paul say that the “head of Christ is God” 1Cor. 11:3
The passage speaks of marital relationships and our relationship to God. The key concept being discussed is submission or obedience. Wives submit to husbands, who submit to Christ, who submits to God. This fits perfectly with Jesus’ position under the Father. Husbands and wives are a picture of Christ and the the church, or in this passage, the husband as a part of the church. Husbands and wives are of equal nature, but differing authority. Christ and the church, on one understanding are of equal nature, but differing authority, since He and we are equally human. In the same way, Christ and the Father are of equal nature, but differing authority.
11) Why does Jesus “hand over the kingdom to his God” and “subject himself to God”? 1Cor. 15:24,28
Again, Jesus subjecting Himself to the Father is not in any way a reference to His nature, but only his voluntary position. It should be noted here that this passage says that Jesus is reigning today and will continue to reign until all of His enemies are conquered. How does this square with the JW belief that it is Satan who rules this world?
12) Who does he refer to as “my God”? John 20:17, Rev. 3:12
The answer should be plain by now. He refers to the Father and speaks as a human being.
13) Who is referred to prophetically at Prov. 8:22-31?
Many see this as a description of Christ. I have doubts about that for several reasons. Proverbs is obviously all about wisdom, and this chapter personifies it. As it is somewhat of a poetical book, with mysteries and paradoxes within it. I doubt that one can make many strong, technical, doctrinal statements from it. This passage, to me seems to be nothing more than a poetical way of speaking of wisdom. God had wisdom with Him when He created the world. This makes perfect sense without having to believe that a literal person is being spoken of. Also, the person spoken of is female. Read the chapter from the beginning. If the later statements are to be taken literally of a literal person, then shouldn’t that person be female? I would submit that if a divine person is in view, then it would more likely be the “Spirit of truth”, or the Holy Spirit. Statements about being “brought forth” are too vague to necessitate the believe that the one in view was created. In short, perhaps Christ is spoken of here, and perhaps not, but nothing suggests that He is not God.
14) How does He sit at God’s right hand? Ps. 110:1
If the thrust of this question is just, “How can Jesus and God be spoken of as if they are separate Persons?”, then we’ve already answered it. If the question is what this sitting at God’s right hand looks like, I refer the reader to Rev. 7:17, where the Lamb, Jesus, is in the midst of the throne of God. In other words, Jesus occupies the throne, but is also spoken of separately from the “one who sits on the throne”. Only God sits on the throne of God.
15) Why does John say “no man has seen God at any time”? John 1:18
This verse actually opens up a whole study on the Deity of Christ that is very interesting. It’s pretty clear that, on a Trinitarian understanding of the passage, John is usually using “God” to refer to the Father, as in “the Word was with God”. Again, the Bible is not a theology textbook, so we have to use the context to give us the meanings of words.
There are two lines of evidence I can see that show that John here refers specifically to God the Father, and not to the Son or the Triune God as a whole. One line is the verses that speak of people seeing God and how one reconciles these with verses denying that God can or has ever been seen. The other line is in looking at the Greek of John 1:18 itself to show how it encapsulates the first line of evidence into a single statement.
First, let’s look at some interesting passages that seem to say that God has been seen.
Gen. 17:1 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless.”
Gen. 18:1 Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day.
Ex. 6:2-3 God spoke further to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I did not make myself known to them.’
Ex. 24:9-11 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank.
Ex. 33:10 Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend…
Num. 12:6-8 He [God] said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD…
Acts 7:2 And he [Stephen] said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran….
The Bible seems pretty clear that people saw God, but let’s look at some verses that seem to say otherwise. In addition to John 1:18, we have these:
Exodus 33:20 But He [God] said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’
1 Tim. 6:16 [God] who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see.
John 6:46 Not that any man has seen the Father except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.
So, have people seen God or not? If we say no, then it seems hard to get around the passages above that pretty clearly say God was seen. If we say yes, then how are we to understand the verses that say He cannot be seen? If God were a unitarian God, of the sort that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in, this would be very difficult, indeed. There seems to be an answer in the Trinity, however.
Notice that in John 6:46, it is specifically the Father who has never been seen. Since Scripture is not rigid in the word “God” denoting the whole being, it is at least possible in many cases that “God” refers to one or another of the Persons of the Trinity. I would submit that the doctrine of the Trinity solves this dilemma rather nicely. Since it is only the Father specifically named as the one who has never been seen by any man except Jesus, it makes sense to say that it is the Son who has been seen whenever God was seen. Now there is no contradiction and no difficulty.
In fact, Justin Martyr drew this distinction when he said, “Then I replied, “Reverting to the Scriptures, I shall endeavor to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things, — numerically, I mean, not [distinct] in will. For I affirm that He has never at any time done anything which He who made the world — above whom there is no other God — has not wished Him both to do and to engage Himself with.” (Dialog of Justin with Trypho, a Jew, ch 56)
The second line of reasoning concerns the verse itself. In the King James Version, John 1:18 reads: “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. The NAS, however, translates the phrase in bold above as “only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father”. The NIV, “God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side.” The ESV says, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side.” In fact, nearly every modern translation uses the word “God” instead of “Son”. Why is this? The answer is simply that modern translators have better, older manuscripts and have been able to determine that the phrase was probably changed to “only begotten Son” in the King James as a result of a scribal error. The King James, though an older translation, is based on more recent and less pristine Greek manuscripts.
Why is this comparison important? The New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses renders this verse in the same way as the King James. From a theological standpoint, it makes sense that the Watchtower Society would prefer that reading. The important bit of information is that the NWT is itself a modern translation, and even purports to be based on the same Greek texts as other modern translations, but inserts the word “Son” instead of “God” even though the better manuscripts they used have the word “theos”. Using “Son” was excusable in the KJV, since the translators didn’t have the best manuscripts to work with, but the NWT translators not only had access to the best texts, but even claim to have been translating from them.
Rightly translated, then, what does John 1:18 say? It says that no one has seen “God” (theos), but that the “unique (only; one and only; etc.) God”, who is close to the Father has made Him known. John uses “God” twice in this verse, but since the final “Him” must, contextually, refer to the first usage, John must be speaking of two different Persons here. Since the Father must be God, and “God” is at the Father’s side, the second “God” must not be the same as the first.
The understanding of this verse brings together several concepts we’ve addressed earlier. First, it reaffirms that no on has seen God, but then goes on to say that there’s a “unique God” that has made Him known. When we remember the passage that says that the Father has never been seen, it’s obvious that the first “God” is the Father. Do you remember our brief study of the term “monogenes”, here translated in the KJV and NWT as “only begotten”? The term actually carries the meaning of “unique” or “one of a kind”. That’s why so many translations render it this way. So the second “God” in the verse is unique and has “made known” the Father.
So, when exactly did this unique God make the Father known? The answer is in the contrast between the unique One and the Father, namely, that the Father has never been seen. The Son, or the unique God, has “made Him known” by being the one that has been seen. This is exactly how Justin Martyr believed it happened.
Indeed, John goes on to say in chapter 12 that it was Jesus who was seen by Isaiah in the temple:
John 12:37-43 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
“He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”
Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
John is obviously throughout talking about Jesus, and says that Isaiah said what he said in Isaiah 6 because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke of Jesus. If you go back to the event itself, here’s what you read:
Isaiah 6:1-5, 9-10 In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.
Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
And one called out to another and said,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”
And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.
Then I said,
“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.“…
He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.’
“Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.”
Jesus is Jehovah, and was seen and heard throughout the Old Testament.
16) Why did he ask not to be called “good”, saying “nobody is good, except one, God”? Luke 18:19
Before we answer this question, let’s look at the verse itself:
Luke 18:18-19 A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”
Now look carefully, did Jesus actually ask not to be called “good”? He did not. Rather, he asked why the man called Him good, saying that only God is good. Instead of denying that He was God, Jesus is pointing out to the man the real import of his words. In effect, Jesus is asking, “Do you really believe that I’m God? Don’t you know that to call me good is to call me God? Jesus question is directed at the motives of the man. “Why do you…” Jesus uses the man’s language as an opportunity to teach him of His own Deity.
I would also ask of the JW. Do you believe that Jesus is good?
17) Why does Daniel say “to him were GIVEN rulership…”? Dan. 7:13,14
This is what’s known by many theologians as the “eternal covenant”. In heaven, Daniel sees a vision in which the Father gives to the Son a kingdom. This is the heavenly corollary to the Davidic covenant. (2 Samuel 7:8-16) Here, the Father promises the Son the Kingdom promised to David, as can be seen in the fact that it will endure forever. In order to do so, the Son would have to become human, born in the line of David, and live in fulfillment of all of the prophecies concerning Him.
There is no confusion this passage at all if one understands the Trinity and Incarnation. One question that could be asked of a Jehovah’s Witness on this point is, “How can rulership of the nations be given to this Son of Man by God unless it was His to give?” This question refutes the idea that it is only Satan who rules the nations of the world, as JW’s believe.
18) Why did people not die when they saw Jesus? Ex. 33:20
The answer to this should be plain, from the answer to question 15. Why didn’t Isaiah die when he saw Jehovah? (Isa. 6:1-10)
19) How was Jesus dead and God alive at the same time? Acts 2:24
The short answer to this question should be clear, that Jesus, having a human nature as well as a divine nature, could die as all human beings can. Remember, the doctrine of the Trinity merely affirms all that Scripture affirms. God cannot die, but God can add to Himself a mortal, human nature that is capable of death. Another way to look at this is to ask, “Is God powerful enough to become human while not ceasing to be God? If so, is He powerful enough to remain God if the human nature He has dies?”
The verse cited is interesting to note, because it says that “God raised him up”. This is true, and affirmed by Trinitarians. Trinitarians also affirm…
John 2:18-21 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Did God raise Jesus, or did Jesus raise Himself? The answer, biblically, is both.
20) Why did he need someone to save him? Heb. 5:7
Let’s start by looking at the verse itself.
Heb. 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.
Does this contradict anything that’s been said about the Trinity or Jesus’ human nature so far? It does not. It’s interesting to note that Jesus is behaving exactly as a perfect human would, praying and depending on the grace of God. Since Trinitarians believe Jesus was fully human, no problem can be seen here. I would also note that the verse doesn’t say He “needed someone” to save Him”. Rather it says that God “was able to save him from death” Does the question assume that when Jesus was “heard” that His prayer was answered? That would mean that He didn’t die, which is not believed by any Jehovah’s Witness.
21) How could he “learn obedience” and be “made perfect”? Heb 5:8,9
These verses immediately follow the ones before, and have been answered in previous questions in reference to Jesus’ two natures (#3) and His new place as the pre-eminent human being who sits on the throne of God (#7). The whole passage here in Hebrews is speaking of Jesus as it pertains to His humanity, so it’s not surprising to read these things.
22) Why did he speak of two separate “wills”, his own and that of the father? Luke 22:42
If Jesus and the Father are separate Persons as Trinitarians believe, then it should not be surprising that they have separate wills. There is constant communion within the Trinity, and so they are always in agreement, and so Jesus agrees to do the will of the Father in this verse. This doesn’t mean that they might not have differing thoughts, ideas, or desires. Jesus, being fully human struggled with pain and knew that His death would be agonizing. Jesus had two desires within Himself, just as we often do: to do what would be easiest, or to do the will of God. Jesus willed to do both, but it was a stronger desire on His part to obey the Father.
This objection could only hold water against a modalist, who believes that there is only one Person within God, and that Jesus is somehow talking to Himself in this passage. For a Trinitarian, however, there is no problem.
23) Why is he called God’s “servant”? Isa. 42:1-5, Matt. 12:18
Don’t forget to throw Isaiah 53 and Philippians 2 in there, too. Jesus was a man as much as He was God. So he served God, worshipped God, prayed to God, obeyed God, and followed the will of God. None of this is any problem when one correctly understands the Trinity, when one understands what the Incarnation is.
This does not require that one can fully understand every detail and just what it’s like within the communion of the Trinity. It only requires that one affirm what the Bible teaches, that there is only one God, that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God, and that these three are distinct Persons in communion with each other and filling different roles. It only requires that we attribute to Jesus what the Bible attributes to Jesus, namely: all the attributes of Deity, and all the attributes of perfect humanity.