Category Archives: Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Early Church’s Attempts to Understand the Relationship Between the Human and Divine Natures of Christ

     We have a tendency in modern times to think of what one believes as not particularly important. However, this tendency doesn’t always serve us well. Beliefs are like dominoes– one belief logically impacts another. Our belief about one topic is in some way connected to our belief about another topic, and our beliefs cannot help but impact our actions, attitudes, and well-being. So it is for how we view Christ’s divine and human natures.

     The early church was capable of seeing how a false belief about Christ’s nature could impact other beliefs, such as the atonement. For Christ to be joined to humanity, which was necessary for us to be saved, He had to be truly human. For Him to be be capable of fully saving us and connecting us to God, He had to always be truly God. This was also important for maintaining consistency with the biblical witness, which painted a picture of Christ as genuinely human and genuinely divine (John 20:20-29). There were numerous attempts to reconcile these biblical claims, finally culminating in the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) which defended the orthodox view of Christ’s two natures. Before then, however, there were many missteps.

Adoptionism Graphic     Though the textual critic Bart Ehrman might argue that adoptionism/exhaltation was perhaps the church’s earliest attempt to make sense of who Jesus was, the biblical witness seems to argue otherwise. In any case, this view can be found as early as the second century in the views of Theodotus of Byzantium and Paul of Samosata. Adoptionists thought of Jesus as a holy man who was adopted as the Son of God at baptism due to His good works. Paul of Samosata’s concern in particular was of protecting strict monotheism, so he spoke of Jesus as, “a man adopted by God as his special human son. Jesus entered into a unique position in relation to God without actually becoming God. Paul of Samosata placed Jesus somewhere above other humans due to his elevation to sonship by the Father and somewhere below God due to his humanity and God’s absolute oneness” (Olson). After this adoption, He was thought of as divine in a sense, though not before, meaning He could not be the eternal God– the One who could say, “before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). While this was an attempt to reconcile the biblical data, it leaned so far toward one truth that it ultimately failed to affirm the other truth. In this view, Jesus was 100% man at His birth.

DOCETISM

     Another attempt to explain why scripture talked of Jesus as being divine but also of having a human body erred in the opposite way from adoptionism. Docetism comes from the Greek dokein, meaning “to seem.” In other words, Jesus was written about as if He was human because He pretended to be so. One variant of this view was more Gnostic influenced– if Christ was a pure being, it would have been improper for Him to have a body: “According to some docetists, Christ was so completely divine that he could not be human… For these docetists, Jesus’ body was a phantasm” (Ehrman, p. 15).

     Another variant had Christ abducting the body of a man named Jesus and then leaving the man to die on the cross: “For them, Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood human. But Christ was a separate person, a divine being who, as God, could not experience pain and death” (Ehrman, p. 15). A view somewhat similar to this latter one was called Apollinarianism, wherein the divine Logos took a human body. In this view, there is no human mind, but only a divine mind inhabiting a human body. These views ultimately failed as well. There can be no atonement if God did not fully join Himself to humanity. Further, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that He had a true human body: “Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39, ESV). He also had a human mind (see Luke 2:52, Mark 13:32).

Nestorianism

     After these early and more extreme attempts to reconcile Jesus’ humanity and divinity, there were two more complicated solutions proposed. The first was Nestorianism. Nestorius’ view was that within Christ there were in fact two distinct persons– one human and one divine. This view allowed for side-stepping the difficult truth that God was born of a woman. By strongly separating the natures, Nestorians could claim that it was not God who has born, but simply Christ. As Nestorius wrote in his second letter to Cyril:
“Everywhere in Holy Scripture, whenever mention is made of the saving dispensation of the Lord, what is conveyed to us is the birth and suffering not of the deity but of the humanity of Christ, so that by a more exact manner of speech the holy Virgin is called Mother of Christ, not Mother of God. Listen to these words of the Gospels: ‘The book of the birth of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham’ [Matt. 1:1]. It is obvious that the son of David was not the divine Logos” (Noll).

     This view failed to join humanity in divinity in one person, and was rejected at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., though it still lives on in the Church of the East (not to be confused with the Eastern Orthodox Church). It was followed by a Christological view that was essentially an extreme reaction to it: Eutychianism.

EUTYCHIANISM

     Eutychianism, far from separating the natures of Christ, joined them together. For Eutyches, the human nature of Jesus was subsumed by the divine, creating what was essentially a new nature. Christ was therefore not human enough to be joined to us nor divine enough to be truly consubstantial (of the same nature) with the Father. The Council of Chalcedon sought to deal with the Eutychian issue and to re-affirm Ephesus’ condemnation of Nestorianism, arguing for a truly orthodox view of Christ’s two natures.

ORTHODOXY

     The one thing that all of the aforementioned views have in common is that they go to one extreme or another in an attempt to hold on to one piece of truth about who Christ was. In contrast, the Council of Chalcedon’s orthodox definition managed to keep Christ’s natures in their proper balance. Chalcedon confessed, “one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood… to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person (prosopon) and one Subsistence (hypostasis), not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Chalcedonian Creed, 451 A.D.) In other words, Christ was one person who possessed two natures– one fully human and the other fully divine. There was no confusion of natures, nor separating Christ into two different person. This also allowed for Jesus to be a true savior of mankind, “for we would not be able to overcome the author of sin and of death unless he whom sin could not stain nor death hold took on our nature and made it his own” (Noll).

 Sources Cited

Ehrman, B. D. (2003). Lost Christianities: the battle for Scripture and the faiths we never knew. P. 15. New York: Oxford University Press.

Noll, M. A. (1997). Turning points: decisive moments in the history of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books. Kindle Edition.

Olson, R. E. (1999). The story of Christian theology: twenty centuries of tradition & reform. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version : the ESV Study Bible.. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

An Interview with Jehovah’s Witnesses (MP3)

Last year, I had the opportunity of interviewing an older Jehovah’s Witness couple regarding some of the central JW teachings. They were both quite knowledgeable and the husband had even worked for the headquarters in Brooklyn at one time. They were also very friendly, as is evidenced by their willingness to dialogue with me.

I included the recordings below in hopes that they might be instructive for those who are curious about what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and the arguments they are likely to use in dialogue with Christians. I, for one, found it to be a fascinating conversation that reiterated to me why the teachings of Christianity, in contrast to the Jehovah’s Witness religion, are so important and precious. Click the links to view in your browser, or right-click to save them to your drive.

Interview Part 1

Interview Part 2

Making God’s Name Known – A Response to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Claims About the Name of God

In the September 15, 1994 issue of Watchtower magazine (the teaching magazine of the Jehovah’s Witness organization) we read:
“Of all international religions which is the only that uses God’s name, Jehovah? Is it not Jehovah’s Witnesses? Do you think God would allow them to bear his name and not also give them his holy spirit?”

 The implication is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only true Christians because they use God’s name. Elsewhere the offical Jehovah’s Witness teaching body has written:
“How important is God’s name? Consider the model prayer that Jesus Christ gave. It begins this way: ‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.’ (Matthew 6:9) Later, Jesus prayed to God: ‘Father, glorify your name.’ In response, God spoke from heaven, saying: “I both glorified it and will glorify it again.” (John 12:28) Clearly, God’s name is of the utmost importance. Why, then, have some translators left this name out of their translations of the Bible and replaced it with titles?” (What Does the Bible Really Teach?, APPENDIX: The Divine Name—Its Use and Its Meaning)

 What they’re referring to is the tendency of most translations, following the tradition of ancient (as well as contemporary) Jews to not want to use the name of God, but to translate any occurrence of God’s name in Scripture as “LORD” or some other identifying word (many contemporary Jews use “Hashem,” or “the Name”). In most Bibles “LORD” in all capitals represents four Hebrew letters– in our alphabet, “YHWH.” This name is usually pronounced Yahweh, and means something like “he causes to be,” emphasizing God’s ultimate creatorship. This name is used throughout the Old Testament, but does not appear in any New Testament manuscripts. Even when the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, the word used for YHWH is translated as the Greek “kurios,” meaning “Lord.” This follows the vast majority of Old Testament manuscripts in Greek (called the Septuagint), as well as other Jewish works of the time in Greek.

 Jehovah’s Witnesses speculate that the earliest New Testament manuscripts contained the name of God, despite not having any Greek (which is the language the New Testament was written in) manuscripts that contain the name. As a result, their translation, the New World Translation (NWT), uses Jehovah (an anglicized version of YHWH) throughout the Old and New Testaments. Jehovah’s Witnesses, as we saw above, often argue for the importance of using God’s name. One reason for this is that:
“In replacing God’s name with titles, Bible translators make a serious mistake. They make God seem remote and impersonal…” (What Does the Bible Really Teach?, APPENDIX: The Divine Name—Its Use and Its Meaning)

 Another reason Jehovah’s Witnesses cite for the importance of using God’s name is that it defines which god you are speaking of. The word “god” can apply to countless ideas of God/gods, so using God’s name helps to delimit which god you mean.

 These are actually understandable concerns, and I for one would have no problem with using God’s name to allow for specificity and to encourage familiarity with God. However, there are some major problems with the Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasis on the importance of using God’s name. They are:

 1. YHWH is God’s name, not Jehovah. Unlike Jehovah, YHWH has an important meaning in Hebrew, but most Christians don’t know Hebrew, so this significance is lost. This problem is compounded by the lack of consensus on how YHWH should be pronounced, since there are no vowels in ancient Hebrew. Thus, if using God’s name is so important, how come He didn’t make sure we knew how to say it? Furthermore, people use the word “God” often as if it were a personal pronoun. So, does this not fulfill the criteria of encouraging intimacy with God? After all, Jehovah’s Witnesses admit that they don’t really know the true pronunciation, but still think it’s important to use a proper name for God. As a result, wouldn’t any name that is used for God, including “God,” satisfy this concern?

 2. The reason God’s name, YHWH, was meaningful to the Hebrew-speaking believer is because in the Semitic culture, your name reflected your character. If you don’t know what someone’s name means, this significance is lost. Even if Jehovah’s Witnesses got God’s name right, this isn’t nearly as important as what the name signifies– God’s character. If they don’t understand who God is, it means absolutely nothing that they use His name.

 To elaborate on the second point, Jehovah’s Witnesses sometimes quote John 17:26, where Jesus says, “I have made known to them your name.” They take this passage literally to mean that Jesus made sure that His disciples knew what God’s name was. However, this is not consistent with how Jesus’ followers would have understood His statement. Names represented someone’s character, and this is the consistent thought pattern throughout the Bible.

 In Exodus 34:14, we read about “YHWH, whose name is Jealous.” If the Jehovah’s Witness interpretational method is applied consistently, one must conclude that God’s name is actually Jealous, and that this is what we should call Him. Of course, that isn’t the point. His name reflects His character, and He can be called Jealous because He refuses to share worship with any other.

 In Genesis 16:13 we read that Hagar, “called the name of YHWH who spoke to her ‘You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees.’” Others throughout the Old Testament are given names to reflect their character or circumstances surrounding their birth (see for example Genesis 17:5; Genesis 17:17, 18:12; Hosea 1:6, etc.). Finally, when Jesus is conceived, we read that an angel tells Joseph, “you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus, of course, is the anglicized version of Yeshua, a Hebrew name which means “YHWH Saves.” Thus, Jesus’ saving work is connected with YHWH’s– that’s the significance of His name.

 Furthermore, the New World Translation does not always translates “kurios” (Lord) into “Jehovah” in the New Testament. Specifically, there are some places where a New Testament writer uses an Old Testament passage about YHWH to speak about Jesus, and the NWT uses the word “Lord” instead of “Jehovah” as a means of obscuring what the text is actually trying to say.

 For instance, in Hebrews 1:10 in the NWT we read of Jesus, “at the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands.” This is a quotation from Psalm 102:25-27. Note that the NWT uses the word Lord instead of Jehovah, since the passage is talking about Jesus. The author of Hebrews is not quoting the Psalm in Hebrew (the word “YHWH” doesn’t appear in this verse in the Hebrew text, though it does appear in the verses preceding it), but the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), which reads, “In the beginning thou, O Lord, didst lay the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands” (Ps 101:25, LXX– note that this Psalm is 101 in the Greek Septuagint but 102 in the Hebrew Masoretic). While the Greek Septuagint doesn’t use the word YHWH, but kurios (Lord), the context of the Psalm is clearly about God, and the NWT puts the passage in quotations, demonstrating that they are aware that is a quotation from the Old Testament. Furthermore, every time “Lord” appears in their translation of Psalm 102, they translate it as Jehovah. Even still, they translate “kurios” into Lord instead of Jehovah in Hebrews 1:10, because they don’t want to acknowledge that the author of Hebrews thought of Jesus as YHWH.

 Similarly, Psalm 34:8 in the NWT reads, “Taste and see that Jehovah is good.” However, when Peter quotes this Psalm to refer to Jesus, the NWT translates it as “you have tasted that the Lord is kind,” (1 Peter 2:3) leaving out the name Jehovah. That this is a quotation of Psalm 34 is demonstrated by Peter’s quotation of this Psalm at length one chapter later in 1 Peter 3:10-12.

There are also instances where a New Testament writer alludes to an Old Testament passage about YHWH, applies it to Jesus, but the NWT uses the word Lord instead of Jehovah.

 One example is the NWT of Philippians 2:10-11, where Paul says:
“so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend—of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground— and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

 This is a reference to Isaiah 45:23, which the NWT translates as, “To me every knee will bend, every tongue will swear loyalty.” This passage is clearly about YHWH, and yet Paul applied it to Jesus. If the NWT translators knew about this, it would only be honest to translate kurios as Jehovah instead of Lord, or at the very least to point to Isaiah 45:23 in their verse references. However, they do not. Interestingly, in their translation of Isaiah 45:23, they do list Romans 14:11 as a reference, wherein Paul says, “For it is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says Jehovah, ‘to me every knee will bend, and every tongue will make open acknowledgment to God’” (NWT). Notice that Paul interjects “says the Lord” into this passage, and the NWT translates it as Jehovah. Yet, when he interjects “Lord” into Philippians 2:11, clearly speaking of Christ, they simply translate it as Lord.

 We’ve established that in the Hebrew culture, a name reflects character and is more than an arbitrary identifier. Furthermore, multiple names are used for God throughout the Old Testament (see the above citations of Genesis 16:13 and Exodus 34:14 for just a couple examples). Apart from YHWH, there is another important name for God in the Old Testament that we should discuss: “I AM.”

 In Exodus 3:13-14 we read:
“Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’’” (ESV).

 This name is used in other places in the Old Testament. For instance in Isaiah 43:10-11:
“…understand that I am he [in Greek, “ego eimi”– I AM]: before me there was no other God, and after me there shall be none” (Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton, English Translation of the Greek Septuagint).

 It is with these passages in mind that we must turn to John 8:56-59. Jesus says to the crowd:
“‘Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (ESV).

 “I AM” in this passage is the same Greek phrase, “ego eimi,” that God uses of Himself in the Old Testament. Jesus is claiming identity with God, the God who simply is without beginning or end. This is the only reasonable explanation for why the Jews would take up stones to stone him. However, the New World Translation obscures the meaning of the text with its translation:
“Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, before Abraham came into existence, I have been’” (John 8:58, NWT).

 In conclusion, it is not enough to simply use a proper name for God. One must accurately reflect God’s character and not seek to hide what He reveals about Himself. While there is nothing wrong with calling God Jehovah or Yahweh, what is actually important is knowing Him. Communicating truths about Himself is the reason He uses names in the first place. The Jehovah’s Witness organization seeks to deny central truths about who God is, so their use of a proper noun to refer to Him is of no benefit to them. It is pure superstition to assert otherwise.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Deity of Jesus

The Jehovah’s Witness religion is a cult of Christianity (meaning it appears to be Christian but contradicts central Christian teachings) whose leaders, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, work out of Brooklyn, New York. They have numerous aberrant views, but it would probably be more helpful to focus on one for the purposes of this paper so that it can be more fully developed and refuted. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was created by God (whom they call Jehovah) before everything else. Before the Son became a man, he existed as the Archangel Michael. He is not God Almighty, but is called in the Jehovah’s Witness Bible translation, the New World Translation, “a god” (John 1:1, NWT) and sometimes referred to in Jehovah’s Witness parlance as “a mighty god, but not God Almighty.” It might be helpful to look at the biblical verses that bear directly on this issue and see how JWs understand them in order to respond to their charges directly.

John 1:1-3


Perhaps the most direct passage in scripture that testifies to Jesus’ divinity is John chapter 1. It begins, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. ” (John 1:1-3, ESV). John is here paraphrasing Genesis 1, which tells us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. John is therefore asserting quite clearly that the one who created all things in the beginning (referred to in Genesis 1) was “the Word,” a name which John (borrowing perhaps from the Greek concept of the logos or the Aramaic concept of the memra) applies to Jesus. John doesn’t simply make this identification implicit, however. He states quite explicitly that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

 Jehovah’s Witnesses bring up an interesting point on the Greek behind this sentence that helps us to illuminate John’s view of God. They note that, unlike in the clause that reads “the Word was with God,” where “God” has a definite article before it, “the Word was God” lacks the definite article before “God.” Their conclusion is thus that this clause should be translated, “the Word was A god.” There is a much better explanation for the lack of the article here, however. Daniel Wallace, an eminent textual critic and Greek scholar explains:
“Its lack of a definite article keeps us from identifying the person of the Word (Jesus Christ) with the person of ‘God’ (the Father). That is to say, the word order tells us that Jesus Christ has all the divine attributes that the Father has; lack of the article tells us that Jesus Christ is not the Father. John’s wording here is beautifully compact! It is, in fact, one of the most elegantly terse theological statements one could ever find” (http://www.puritanboard.com/f17/exegetical-insight-john-1-1c-daniel-wallace-72459/).

In other words, the lack of the article often suggests that what is being referred to is a quality, not a personal identification. John beautifully illustrates the orthodox view of the Trinity here. Jesus is not a creation of God, nor is He the same person as the Father. He is, instead, distinct from the Father but also sharing in His divine nature. Or, as some have translated it, “what God was, the Word was.” John makes this even more emphatic by reversing the word order, so that it literally reads, “and God was the Word.” Furthermore, the missing article before “God” cannot mean, as a rule, that the God being spoke of is simply “a god,” or else the NWT’s translation of John 1:18 should read, “no one has seen a god.” In fact, according to Robert Countess, there are 282 instances of theos (God) without the article in New Testament:
“At sixteen places NWT has [similar to its translation of John 1:1] either a god, god, gods, or godly. Sixteen out of 282  means that the translators were faithful to their translation principle only six percent of the time” (cited in Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 267).

John 8:58


 In an issue of Watchtower magazine, a publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, entitled “The Man Who Changed the World” (April 1, 2010), we read of Jesus, “He lived before he was born on earth. Jesus once said: ‘before Abraham came into existence, I have been…'”

 This is a reference to John 8:58, and follows the reading in their New World Translation. The NASB, a fairly literal translation, reads this way:
“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM [in Greek, ‘ego eimi’].'”

 This wording matches the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint or LXX) in Isaiah 43:10-11. (Jesus and the apostles were very familiar with the Septuagint and it is quoted numerous times throughout the New Testament):
  “…understand that I am he [ego eimi– I AM]: before me there was no other God, and after me there shall be none” (Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton, English Translation of the Greek Septuagint).

 Many have also compared this verse to Exodus 3:14, where God refers to Himself as “I AM.” Whichever verse was in the mind of the Jews listening to Jesus (Isaiah 43:10 or Exodus 3:14), they understood His meaning. In the next verse, we learn that they picked up rocks to stone Him for blasphemy because of what He had just said. It is absolutely critical that we understand what Jesus means by these words. He Himself tells us that it is:
“And He was saying to them, ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He [better translated “I AM,” Greek: “ego eimi”], you will die in your sins” (John 8:23-24, NASB). If we do not take the time to pay clear attention to what Jesus is saying here, Jesus claims that we are still in our sins (see also John 13:19 and 18:6 for references where Jesus’ invokes I AM of Himself to attest to His divinity).

For more information regarding the use of “ego eimi,” please check out this article on the subject by Dr. James White: http://vintage.aomin.org/EGO.html

Colossians 1:16


 In this same publication, “The Man Who Changed the World,” we read:
“Jehovah has many angelic sons. Jesus, however, is unique. He referred to himself as ‘the only-begotten Son of God.’ That expression means that Jesus is the sole direct creation of God. The only begotten Son is the one through whom God created all other things.–Colossians 1:16.”

 Colossians 1:16 is a very strange verse to quote here, as this Watchtower is for use in evangelizing, not simply for study inside the Jehovah’s Witness organization. As such, anyone not reading a Jehovah’s Witness Bible (the New World Translation), would not read this verse as a proof AGAINST the deity of Christ, but for it:
“For by 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. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17, NASB).

 The New World Translation drastically changes this verse by adding one word not in the original text– “other.” In Jehovah’s Witness theology, Jesus does not create ALL things, but all OTHER things, meaning that God created Jesus, but Jesus created everything else. However, Paul does not support such a view. He states clearly that Jesus is the cause of everything that has been created. Since Jesus cannot create Himself, He must not have been created.

 The term used in this Watchtower for Jesus, “only begotten,” is not in Colossians 1:16, but it does appear in other passages, at least in some translations– “monogenes” is also often translated as “unique” or “only” and most scholars lean toward this translation. If one takes the view that it should be translated as “only,” then passages like John 1:18 would read, “No one has ever seen God; the only God [later manuscripts read “Son” instead of “God” here], who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (ESV). If you take the view that “only begotten” is the proper translation, then John 1:18 would read “only begotten God.” If Jesus is begotten, does this mean that He was created? Not according to the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.), which uses this word of Jesus while still claiming that He was never created. They understood “begotten” to refer to a relationship in eternity wherein the Father is the ground of the Son, (which distinguishes the two) but not the Creator of the Son (the theological term for this is “eternal generation.” Click here for more information: http://www.wesleyantheology.com/structure-in-the-trinity.html). The term “begotten” also implies that the Son has the same nature as the Father. A man does not beget a burrito, though he might “make” one. We are adopted as God’s sons, but Jesus is “the only begotten Son.” Thus, this term does not work in the Jehovah’s Witnesses favor, since they believe that Jesus is not of the divine nature. If we do accept “only begotten” as the proper translation, this still does not undermine what the New Testament clearly says about Jesus’ divine nature.

Philippians 2:6-8


 At first glance, it’s hard to see why this passage would be used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to disprove the deity of Jesus. It reads:
“[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by 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.” (ESV).

 A straightforward reading would be that Jesus has the same nature of God, though He did not find it necessary to hold onto this with all of His might, but instead humbled Himself by taking on humanity and dying for our sins. Of course, in the translation Jehovah’s Witnesses use, their New World Translation, the first verse in this passage reads:
“who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God.”

 They therefore acknowledge that Jesus is said to exist in God’s form, though this is usually understood to mean that that Jesus existed as a spirit, like God does. But if Paul is simply saying that Jesus, like God, didn’t have a body, how is this significant to what follows? The logical flow is, “Jesus was God, however, Jesus didn’t feel the need to hold on to all of His divine rights but humbled Himself.” This is why New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado translates verse 6 as, “who, being in the form of God, did not regard this being equal to God as something to be exploited” (p. 89, Hurtado, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?).

 Richard Bauckham gives a similar line of reasoning, as well as a similar translation:
“The best linguistic argument suggests that the debated clause within which this phrase occurs is best understood: ‘he did not think equality with God something to be used for his own advantage’.” (p. 207, Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel).

 Of translations that disagree with theirs, the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, “It is apparent that [other translators] are bending the rules to support Trinitarian ends. Far from saying that Jesus thought it was appropriate to be equal to God, the Greek of Philippians 2:6, when read objectively, shows just the opposite, that Jesus did not think it was appropriate” (p. 25, Should You Believe in the Trinity?). The basis for this argument is that the word they translate as “a seizure,” (harpagmos) suggests seizing or snatching violently. Thus, they understand Paul to be arguing that Jesus didn’t try to steal what wasn’t His– namely, the title of God.

 But this ignores the immediate context. If I said, “although these cookies are mine, I did not consider them something to be held onto tightly at all costs, but shared them,” this would suggest that I thought of myself as having the right to keep the cookies for myself. In fact I do. They are my cookies. “The owner of these cookies” is part of my identity. Thus, I don’t have to share them. I could declare that you’ll have my cookies when you pry them from my cold, dead hands! This is, in a sense, what Paul is saying about Jesus. Jesus could have held onto His divine rights with a death grip, but He let them loose as an act of love or humility. If Jesus was not God, it wouldn’t be humility for Him to not act like He was God. It would simply be honest. But because Jesus is in the form of God– He has God’s nature– He is equal to God, and giving up those divine rights is an act of extremest humility.

 The larger context bears this out. Verse 9 tells us that because Jesus humbled Himself, God the Father raised Him back up:
“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” (Philippians 2:9-11, ESV).

 Paul is referencing Isaiah 45 here. In Isaiah 45:18 God declares, “I am the LORD, and there is no other” (ESV). In verse 23, God says, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’” (ESV). If God has declared that to Him every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He alone is Lord, and the Scripture cannot be broken, then Paul is giving us the fulfillment of this prophecy when he tells us that every tongue shall confess that Christ is Lord. It is not an accident that the New World Translation breaks their rule of changing out “lord’ (Gr. kurios) for “Jehovah” when they get to this passage. Paul here clearly quotes a prophecy about God Almighty and applies it to Jesus, and it would be very inconvenient for Jehovah’s Witness theology for them to point that out.

Sharing with Jehovah’s Witnesses


 Jehovah’s Witnesses are known to shut down or end the conversation if challenged too strongly. This is ironic considering they are known for going house-to-house just to challenge other people’s views! If something you share is going to stick, it is best to share inconsistencies in their own Bible or in arguments the Society makes.

 So, for instance, one could point out that the NWT inconsistently translates “Lord” in Philippians 2:9-11; or that their own Kingdom Interlinear (which they are encouraged to use as part of the “JW Library” app) gives a more literal translation of the last clause of John 1:1 as “god [not ‘a god’] was the Word.” The effect of this tactic is that you have now made an association in their minds that supports the deity of Christ that they will see whenever they open their Bibles.

 Also, remember that these are people who are entrenched in a group that asserts a significant amount of control over their lives and thoughts. To change their minds is not an easy matter. It could have significant costs associated. Try to be patient but also prepared to explain the truth to them as clearly as possible.