Friday, February 17, 2017

Discussing Deity With Jehovah's Witnesses

From the Witnessing Tips column of the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1988, page 7. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

Encounters between Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses typically revolve around a discussion of deity. The reason for this is twofold: 1) This is the area where Watchtower theology deviates most dramatically from orthodox Christianity. In contrast to the trinitarian concept of one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the JWs have been taught to believe that God the Father alone is "Jehovah," the only true God; that Jesus Christ is Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God; and that the Holy Spirit is neither God nor a person, but rather God's impersonal "active force." 2) The subject of deity is a frequent confrontational focus because both Jehovah's Witnesses and Christians (at least those who like to witness to JWs) feel confident and well-prepared to defend their stand and attack the opposing viewpoint.

Due to the profound theological differences such discussions often take the form of spiritual trench warfare -- a long series of arguments and counterarguments, getting nowhere and ending in mutual frustration. But this need not be the case, especially if the Christian will "become all thing to all men" by taking a moment to put himself in the Witness's shoes, so to speak (1 Cor. 9:22). In the JW's mind he himself is a worshipper of the true God of the Bible, while you are a lost soul who has been misled by the devil into worshipping a pagan three-headed deity. He is, no doubt, quite sincere in these beliefs and feels both threatened and offended by the doctrine of the Trinity. To give any serious consideration to your arguments in support of the Trinity is simply unthinkable to the JW: he would be sinning against Jehovah God to entertain such a thought.

So, in order to make any headway with the Witness, it is necessary to bridge the gap -- to find common ground that will enable him to rethink his theology. Rather than plunging into a defense of "the doctrine of the Trinity," which can be mind boggling even to a Christian, take things one step at a time.

A good first step would be to consider the question, "Is Jesus Christ really an angel?" It will be frightening to the Jehovah's Witness to open this cherished belief of his to critical re-examination, but not nearly as frightening as to start off discussing evidence that God is triune.

Since the Watchtower Society speaks of "Jesus Christ, whom we understand from the Scriptures to be Michael the archangel" (The Watchtower, February 15, 1979, p.31), put the JW on the spot and ask him to show you "the Scriptures" that say Jesus is Michael. There are none. The Word of God mentions Michael five times: as 1) "one of the foremost princes" (Dan. 10:13, Watchtower Society New World Translation [NWT]), 2) "the prince of [Daniel's] people" (Dan. 10:21, NWT), 3) "the great prince who is standing in behalf of the sons of [Daniel's] people" (Dan. 12:1, NWT), 4) "the archangel" who "had a difference with the devil and was disputing about Moses' body" but "did not dare to bring a judgement against him in abusive terms" (Jude 9, NWT), and 5) a participant in heavenly conflict when "Michael and his angels battled with the dragon" (Rev. 12:7, NWT).

Ask the Jehovah's Witness which one of these verses says that Michael is Jesus Christ. Help him to see that it is necessary to read Scripture plus a complicated Watchtower argument to reach that conclusion. Rather than being merely "one of the foremost princes," Jesus Christ is "Lord of lords and King of kings" (Rev. 17:14, NWT) and is "far above every government and authority and power and lordship and every name named, not only in this system of things, but also in that to come" (Eph. 1:21, NWT). And, unlike "Michael who did not dare condemn the Devil with insulting words, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!'" (Jude 9, Today's English Version), Jesus Christ displayed His authority over the devil when He freely commanded him, "Go away, Satan!" (Matt. 4:10, NWT).

In arguing that Jesus is Michael the archangel the Watchtower Society also points to another verse that does not use the name Michael but says that "the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel's voice and with God's trumpet..." (1 Thess. 4:16, NWT). However, the expression "with an archangel's voice" simply means that the archangel, like God's trumpet, will herald the coming of the Lord, not that the Lord is an archangel.

Point out to the JW that none of the verses he has attempted to use as prooftexts even comes close to stating that Jesus Christ is Michael the archangel. In fact, Scripture clearly teaches the opposite: namely, that the Son of God is superior to the angels. The entire first chapter of Hebrews is devoted to this theme. Have the Witness read Hebrews chapter one aloud with you, and, as you do so, interrupt to point out the sharp contrast between angels and the Son of God. "For to what angel did God ever say, 'Thou art my Son...?' And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says, 'Let all God's angels worship him'" (vv.5-6, Revised Standard Version).

Remind the JW that angels consistently refuse worship ("Be careful! Do not do that!...Worship God." -- Rev. 22:8-9, NWT), but the Father's command concerning the Son is, "Let all God's angels worship him" (Heb. 1:6). That is how the Watchtower's own New World Translation read for some 20 years until, in 1970, the Society changed it to read "do obeisance to him" instead of "worship him" -- part of their consistent campaign to eliminate from their Bible all references to the deity of Christ.

True, you have not yet proved the "doctrine of the Trinity" in this discussion. But you have laid a good foundation by 1) giving your Jehovah's Witness acquaintance convincing evidence that Jesus Christ is not an angel -- he is now faced with the question of who Jesus really is -- and 2) you have shown the Witness that the Watchtower Society has misled him, even resorting to altering Scripture to do so. Now you are in a much better position to go on to present the abundant biblical evidence for the triune nature of God.

"Book Reviews" (two book reviews from the Book Review column of the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1988 and Fall 1989).

Revelation -- Its Grand Climax at Hand!
Anonymous (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1988)
Reviewed in the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1988, page 29, by David A. Reed.)

The Watchtower Society's latest commentary on the Book of Revelation repackages familiar Jehovah's Witness interpretations in an attractive new format. Profusely illustrated with imaginative, full-color scenes from the Apocalypse, the new volume should be easy for Witnesses to sell in their door-to-door ministry. Confident of this, no doubt, they produced a first printing in English of three million copies.

On page 9, the reader is told, "It is not claimed that the explanations in this publication are infallible." But on page 16, the publishers imply that they constitute "God's channel for giving spiritual nourishment" whom Jesus uses "in unlocking the meaning of the prophecy." And baptized Jehovah's Witnesses know, of course, that they would be called before a "judicial committee" and "disfellowshipped" (formally expelled from the group and totally shunned by friends and relatives) if they were actually to reject any of the book's "fallible" explanations.

While The Finished Mystery (an earlier Watchtower commentary on Revelation published in 1917) declared on page 15 that Christ Jesus was the one spoken of as "the Almighty" in Revelation 1:8, this new commentary repeatedly stresses the organization's teaching that Jesus is a mere angel (143, 148, 155, 181, 259, etc.), that the "holy spirit" is an impersonal force, and that the Father alone is God.

In harmony with this, page 36 features a box proudly pointing out that "In the songbook produced by Jehovah's people in 1905, there were twice as many songs praising Jesus as there were songs praising Jehovah God....But in the latest songbook of 1984, Jehovah is honored by four times as many songs as is Jesus." Conveniently ignored is the biblical injunction that men should "honor the Son just as they honor the Father" (John 5:23; NIV).

Along similar lines the book says, "When Jesus presents himself by the title 'the First and the Last,' he is not claiming equality with Jehovah, the Grand Creator. He is using a title properly bestowed on him by God" (27). To "prove" this, a footnote on the same page attempts to explain away a similar phrase in Isaiah referring to God: "In the original Hebrew at Isaiah 44:6, there is no definite article with the words 'first' and 'last,' whereas in Jesus' description of himself in the original Greek at Revelation 1:17, the definite article is found. So, grammatically, Revelation 1:17 indicates a title, whereas Isaiah 44:6 describes Jehovah's Godship."

That this reasoning leads to a false distinction, however, becomes obvious when Revelation 1:17 is compared with Revelation 22:13, which the Witnesses apply to Jehovah God. Both verses use the identical expression in Greek (ho protos kai ho eschatos -- "The First and the Last") with the definite article. In an apparent effort to avoid this fact, the Watchtower's new book skips over Revelation 22:13 in its verse-by-verse commentary, discussing verses 12 and 14 without mentioning verse 13 at all. This appears to be the only significant verse the new Revelation book skips over without comment.

On page 125, the Society suggests that some Witnesses who died in earlier years "may be involved in the communicating of divine truths today." This is reminiscent of their teaching in 1917 that the then-dead Pastor Russell was still running the organization from "beyond the veil" (The Finished Mystery, 144, 256). One can only wonder how such communications from the dead are supposedly received by Watchtower leaders who publicly repudiate spiritism and seances.

As earlier Watchtower commentaries have done, the new book explains much of Revelation as prophesying developments within the Watchtower organization. Thus, seven angels blowing seven trumpets become seven annual Watchtower conventions held between 1922 and 1928: "The trumpet blast of the seventh angel was reflected in highlights of the Bible Students' convention in Detroit, Michigan, July 30-August 6, 1928" (172). And even Isaiah's reference to standing "upon the watchtower" (Isa. 21:8) points to the sect's leadership today as it "uses the Watchtower magazine and other theocratic publications to sound abroad the news...." (260).

While such "exegesis" appears laughable to outsiders, it is received with deadly seriousness by Jehovah's Witnesses, who are not allowed to read anything else.

Should You Believe in the Trinity?
(Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989)
(Reviewed in the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1989, page 30, by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.)

This 32-page booklet, released to Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) at their annual conventions this summer, is the first Watchtower publication devoted entirely to the doctrine of the Trinity. While presenting the standard JW arguments against the Trinity, the booklet misrepresents theologians and scholars, makes outrageously indefensible statements, and uses convoluted reasoning to make Bible texts say the opposite of what they really mean.

Misrepresentation of theologians and scholars is not new to the JWs, but in this booklet it has become an art. I counted at least 27 distinct misrepresentations, and there may be more than 30. For example, part of a sentence from an article in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library is quoted to the following effect: most scholars now agree that Jesus never claimed to be God (pp. 19, 20). Edited out of the sentence, however, is the observation that these same scholars also deny that Jesus claimed to be the Christ!

The booklet's misrepresentations of the early church fathers are especially dishonest. The booklet even tries to argue that Tertullian, the church father who gave us the expression "three persons in one God," did not believe in the Trinity!

Among the booklet's most indefensible statements are the following: God "begat" the prehuman Jesus "in the same sense that an earthly father, like Abraham, begets a son" (p. 16), and when the Bible called Jesus God's Son, "It meant 'Son' in a literal way, as with a natural father and son" (p. 29). JWs will have a difficult time explaining why this does not imply that the prehuman Jesus also had a literal Mother.

For the most part, the booklet rehashes old JW arguments and interpretations of Scripture. One of the few surprises concerns Paul's statement in Philippians 2:6 that Christ did not seize at equality with God. The writer correctly notes that this statement should be related to verses 3-5, where Christ's humility is presented as an example for Christians: how they should regard one another as better than themselves. But then he concludes from this that Christ was actually inferior to God (pp. 25-26). Apparently he failed to realize that this would imply that some Christians are actually inferior to others! Paul's whole point is just the reverse: Christians, though equal to one another by right, should not demand that their equality be recognized in fact, but instead should give up their rights and treat others as if they were better than themselves. They should do this because Christ -- who was by right equal with God -- did not seize at equality with God in fact, but instead humbled Himself before the Father.

For a thorough refutation of the booklet's arguments, and a positive presentation of the Trinity, see this writer's Why You Should Believe in the Trinity: An Answer to Jehovah's Witnesses (Baker Book House, 1989).

End of document, CRJ0091A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Discussing Deity with Jehovah's Witnesses"
release A, May 1, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.

By David A. Reed, Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

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