Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Jehovah's Witnesses

I am briefly responding to Jehovah's Witness (JW) tracts found here:

The Jehovah’s Witness tract claims that Jesus never claimed to be God. Further it states that Jesus was a created spirit being as angels are. And finally, it states that if Jesus were God then he could not have died.

Did Jesus claim to be God? Or was he a created spirit being? The answer is that Jesus claimed to be God not only verbally, but also by his actions and works. If he was only a created spirit being, then how did he have the authority to forgive sins? Indeed, Jesus did forgive sins, and this particular fact was conveniently left out of the JW tract. The Jews recognized this blasphemy when Jesus forgave the sin of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-11) and the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50). They knew that he was acting as if he were God. Indeed, it was for blasphemy that the council of chief priests, elders, and scribes condemned Jesus as deserving death (Mark 14:64).

If Jesus was not God, then how could he in good conscience receive worship? God said in Exodus 34:14, “You shall worship no other god.” In spite of this, Jesus received worship. Angels or created spirit beings who receive worship are evil and should be rejected completely. The Apostle John attempted to worship an angel of God when he saw a vision of the marriage supper of the Lamb. But the angel said, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant…” (Rev. 19:10). If Jesus was a created spirit being or a god (as the JW New World Translation (NWT) states in John 1:1) then worshipping him is in conflict with Exodus 34:14 which forbids the worship of other gods. But he did receive worship by the wise men (Matt. 2:11), the disciples (Matt. 14:33; 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52), the blind man (John 9:38), and the angels themselves (Heb. 1:6)! Hebrews 1:6 says, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” If Jesus was an angel or a created spirit, then how can angels be commanded to worship him? The 1950, 1961, and 1970 editions of the NWT translate the Greek word proskuneo in Hebrews 1:6 correctly as “worship.” In 1971 they realized that Hebrews 1:6 was not consistent with their theology. So they changed “worship” to the obscure noun, “obeisance.” Obeisance means respect, homage, or courtesy and would be acceptable for a created spirit to receive. They inserted obeisance for all the gospel narratives which describe Jesus as being worshipped. If JW’s are convinced on the basis of the original Greek that their testimony is true, then why do they need to alter Scripture to coincide with their position?

(The New World Translation (NT 1950; OT 1961) contains many instances where deliberate alterations were made to coincide with Jehovah’s Witness positions. Of the four members of the translation committee, only one, Fred Franz, studied Greek for two years, although he did not receive a degree having dropped out of the University of Cincinnati. None had studied Hebrew, and one member of the committee was the third President of the movement, Nathan Knorr.)

The tract states that since Elijah and Elisha resurrected people from the dead, Jesus’ miracle of resurrecting others does not indicate that he was God. But were Elijah and Elisha able to raise the dead by simply speaking? Elijah and Elisha pleaded and prayed to God that the dead would be raised. But Jesus simply walked up to the bier and said, “Young man, I say to you, arise” (Luke 7:14). And the dead man sat up and began to speak. Further, while Elijah and Elisha raised the dead like Jesus, were they able to walk on water, and calm storms?

The tract also states that Habakkuk 1:12 says, “O my God, my Holy One, you do not die.” However, this is another alteration. The Hebrew verb namooth, is 1st person plural. The correct translation is, “O my God, my Holy One, we shall not die.”

Further, Philippians 2:1-11 is used in the tract to distinguish Yahweh from Jesus. However, it is on the basis of this very passage that Jesus is identified with Yahweh as described in Isaiah 40-55, including the suffering servant description in Isaiah 53 (See Bauckham, Richard. God Crucified (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 47-77). In Isaiah 45:23 Yahweh said, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” But Paul says, “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” (Phil. 2:10-11). Isaiah 45:23 is also quoted by Paul in Romans 14:11 where he goes on to state, “Each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). Further, Paul equates Jesus with God at judgment in 2 Corinthians stating, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). Further, it is Jesus himself who said, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). If Jesus is not God, then why are we to appear before his throne and be judged by him?

The tract is right when it said that God raised Jesus from the dead. But its conclusion that Jesus could not be God is incorrect. In Psalm 110:1, David writes, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” In this passage Yahweh is called Lord and the future Messiah is called Lord. Further evidence that this passage was in reference to the future Messiah is when Jesus said, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power” (Matt. 26:64). It was after the resurrection that Jesus was seated at the right hand of God as Paul (Eph. 1:20) and the writer of Hebrew state (Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). When describing the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his subsequent exaltation Paul writes, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26), and it is through the perfect life, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection of the Son that we are saved from death and are given eternal life. How can Jesus give us eternal life through his works if he was not the one true God, Savior, and Redeemer?

The tract says that since God is one, He cannot exist in three persons. Is this true? First, Peter refers to God as the Holy Spirit in Acts 5:3-4 saying, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit….You have not lied to men but to God.” Second, Jesus tells us to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19) which has significance for our salvation. The tract mentions that since the three names are spoken together does not indicate three eternal persons of the Trinity. Here, the tract misses the significance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit active in the saving work of baptism. If God saves through baptism (1 Pet. 3:21; Titus 3:5), then what good is it to baptize in the name of a created spirit, and a force that is subordinate to God? It is God that saves us through baptism, which is why we are baptized in God’s name. And finally, if the JW’s are so convinced that the Holy Spirit is not God why do they have to alter Scriptural references that speak of the Holy Spirit? Genesis 1:2 which contains rookh Elohim is altered in the NWT as “God’s active force” instead of the literal rendering, “Spirit of God” to avoid a Trinitarian understanding of the Spirit. Many other alterations are made in the New Testament as well in order to exclude the Holy Spirit from the divine identity (Rom. 15:19; Eph. 2:22; 3:5; Titus 3:5; James 2:26; 2 Peter 1:21).

In conclusion, it is through Jesus’ acts and works that we see a man do and claim things that are only befitting of Yahweh. Jesus is equated with the divine identity described in the Old Testament, and it is through Jesus that we are saved from death. The salvation that Yahweh gives through baptism in the Trinitarian name is a salvation that only Yahweh can give. May all human beings not only do obeisance to him, but let all human beings and angels worship Jesus forever.


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