Reasoning with the Jehovah's Witnesses
Below is an article on Jehovah's Witnesses based on Ron Rhodes' book, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah's Witnesses. All quotations are from that book unless otherwise noted. This article is in conjunction with the DCF blog's comparative religions series. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or email me.
Jehovah God – it’s a name that any Jehovah’s Witness takes quite seriously. This name is so holy that it is the only name by which we are to refer to God, according to the Witnesses. Since Jehovah is the only name of God, then God cannot be synonymous with Christ (also known as Michael the Archangel, a lesser “god”), the Witnesses believe. This leads to all sorts of assumptions about Jesus. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses (or JWs for short), Jesus is not to be worshipped because He is just an angel; however many Scriptures indicate the contrary. They believe that He experienced a spiritual resurrection, as opposed to the Christian view of a bodily resurrection. Christians believe that Jesus is a part of the Trinity; but the Witnesses argue that there is only One God – Jehovah God – so such a concept of the Trinity cannot be correct. But are these assertions accurate?
Let’s begin by examining the New World Translation, the official Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, to see what it says of God’s exclusive title. To begin with, the word “Jehovah” is inserted throughout the New Testament where it refers to God, and elsewhere, they leave it as “Lord.” However, the original Greek manuscripts do not include the word “Jehovah” anywhere in the New Testament, so why do the NWT compilers cling to this position?
Is God really to be referred to exclusively as “Jehovah”? The Greek translation of Jehovah is “‘Kurios’ (‘Lord’ in English). In this way, God lets us know that it is OK to translate ‘Jehovah’ into other languages…. Under the inspiration of God, the New Testament refers to Christ with the same word, ‘Kurios,’ (‘Lord’) which it used to translate ‘Jehovah.’ …. There is at least one clamorous exception to the rule that the New World Translation always writes out ‘Jehovah.’ In this case the Witnesses themselves translate the Hebrew ‘Jehovah’ as ‘Lord.’ Why?” (Answers to my Jehovah’s Witnesses Friends, page 106-107, italics mine). 1 Peter 2:3 – the passage in question – contains a reference to Psalm 34:8, which the NWT translated “Taste and see that Jehovah is good…” But 1 Peter 2:3 was translated, “If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good…” Why? The context is referring to Jesus Christ! Doesn’t this imply that the Lord Jesus is one with Jehovah God?
Additionally, Isaiah 43:11 (NKJ) states, “I, even I, am the LORD; and besides me there is no saviour.” But the NWT reads, “I-I am Jehovah, and besides me there is no Savior.” When “Lord” is in all caps, this is a transliteration of the word Jehovah; so while the NWT is accurate here, this provides evidence that Jesus is Jehovah God – no one can deny that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.
But how can Jehovah God and Jesus as Lord be synonymous, since Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is Michael the Archangel? Based on this premise, the NWT translates the word “worship” in Hebrews 1:6 as “obeisance”: “And let all God’s angels do obeisance to him.” Thus, “Jesus is to be honored, but not worshiped as God,” JWs believe (Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, page 169). Is this Scriptural? There are several major problems with this interpretation. Firstly, if we are to believe that the Watchtower Society is God’s prophet – as they claim – why do NWT editions prior to 1971 translate this passage as “worship,” and all post-1971 editions translate it as “obeisance”? Did God change His mind? Should we or should we not worship Christ? Is it possible that the JWs’ interpretation concerning Jesus as an angel is wrong? “Worse comes to worse when it is realized that Jehovah’s Witnesses say Jesus was an angelic being in his prehuman state (as Michael the Archangel) and returned to the angelic state after His death on the cross. This being the case, the angels mentioned in Hebrews 1:6 are actually commanded to worship a fellow angel – they are told to worship one of their own! Why would God allow this, especially since He has elsewhere said that worship is to be rendered to Him alone…?” (Reasoning, page 170). Does this support the notion that Jesus is an angel?
Several points actually reveal that Jesus is not Michael the Archangel. Firstly, the Scriptures indicate that Michael is one of many chief princes (see Daniel 10:13) – not the chief of princes, as the Watchtower teaches. “The fact that Michael is ‘one of’ the chief princes indicates that he is one among a group of chief princes… the fact that Michael is one among equals proves that he is not unique. By contrast, the Greek word used to describe Jesus in John 3:16 is monogenes – which means ‘unique,’ ‘one of a kind’” (Reasoning, page 177). But this poses an inconsistency that must be addressed: how could Jesus be both a chief angel who shares His authority with others and a unique figure at the same time? He can’t possibly be both, yet this is what JW theology has accepted, since they believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but not Jehovah God Himself.
This brings us to the second point: everywhere in Scripture, angels reject worship (see Rev. 22:8-9), while Jesus accepted it – Jesus never once told anyone that it was wrong to worship Him. (This is best demonstrated in the case of Thomas, who called Jesus, “My Lord and My God!” See John 20:28.) This raises an important question for JWs: if the angels of Revelation 22 refused worship, and yet Jesus accepted it, how could Jesus be an angel – since angels are not to worship each other, but they are to worship “the Son” of Hebrews 1? “‘…the worship that the angel refused to accept [in Rev. 22:8-9], but told John to give to God, is the same proskuneo [Greek: “worship”] that the Father commanded to be given to his Son Jesus at Hebrews 1:6. So, the Son is certainly not an angel’” (Reasoning, page 171, David Reed quote, brackets mine). In fact, Hebrews 1:4 says of the Son, “having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they,” and in verse 8 He is called “God.” The point of Hebrews 1 is to show Jesus’ superiority to the angels and equality with God.
Yet the belief in Jesus as Michael the Archangel seems to become the springboard for the Watchtower’s teaching on Jesus as a “lesser god.” John 1:1 in the NWT reads, “the Word was a god.” But is Jehovah God really superior to Jesus Christ – or are They one God as Christianity teaches? With the exception of the NWT, every Bible version translates John 1:1 as follows: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Is there support for the NWT’s rendering of Jesus as “a god”?
In Isaiah 44:6, we read, “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the First, and I am the Last; and beside me there is no God.” It’s clear from this passage that Jehovah God (LORD) is the redeemer (also called LORD) isn’t it? But the New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ is the redeemer: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Wouldn’t this make Jesus one with Jehovah God? How can this be true if, as the Witnesses claim, Jesus is just “a god” who does not share equality with Jehovah?
In fact, the Isaiah passage precludes the assertion that Jesus is just a lesser “god” by stating, “beside me there is no God.” It’s important to consider the implications of this: If Jesus were a lesser god, then wouldn’t this standard of no other God besides Jehovah classify Jesus as a false god? It is only logical, then, that Jesus is one with Jehovah God. In fact, Revelation 22 provides a parallel to Jehovah’s statement in Isaiah 44, “I am the first and the last”: “Behold, I am coming quickly… I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last… I Jesus…” (Rev. 22:12-13, 16). Doesn’t this indicate that Jesus is God?
We have already evidenced that Jesus was not an angel akin to a lesser god, but does this necessarily preclude the possibility that Jesus experienced a spiritual resurrection as Watchtower theology teaches? Probably not by all standards, but here are a few things to consider: Early in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ history, its leaders strongly believed that the patriarchs would be resurrected bodily, and would come to live in the house which they had built specifically for the occasion; but “Spirits don’t need houses! Bodies need houses!” (Answers, page 91) If the JW leaders believed that the patriarchs could resurrect bodily, couldn’t Christ?
Throughout Scripture, every person thatJesus raised from the dead was raised bodily (i.e see John 11). Why would there be an exception for His own Resurrection? Romans 8:11 indicates the type of resurrection that Jesus had: “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwells in you.” Why would Paul equate Jesus’ resurrection with the Spirit’s quickening of our mortal bodies, if Jesus’ Resurrection were a spiritual one? When the disciples thought that they were seeing a ghost, why did Jesus say to them, “Handle Me and see, for a Spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39) if He were really a spirit or an angel upon His resurrection?
“[N.T.] Wright… demonstrates that ‘there is no evidence for Jews… using the word resurrection to denote something essentially nonconcrete.’ If Jesus had been raised in an immaterial body, the disciples would not have described it as a resurrection” (The Unshakable Truth, page 293, brackets mine). The disciples handled Him, ate with Him, talked with Him – for 40 days after His resurrection, being seen by over 500 at one time (see Acts 10:41, Acts 1:3, 1 Corinthians 15:6)! Jesus’ resurrection was not a spiritual one, but a bodily one. Isn’t it possible from this that Jesus is God – and that this is the explanation behind His miraculous, bodily resurrection?
So far, there is strong evidence for Jesus’ divinity, but what about the Trinity? Is God triune, or are the JWs correct in asserting that there is only one God? What do the Scriptures say? Deuteronomy 6:4 states, “Listen, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah” (NWT); JWs claim that this passage rules out the triune nature of God. Is this view correct? Deuteronomy 6:4 was known to the Jews as the Shema – a reminder to Israel, who was surrounded by pagans and their many gods, to keep the Lord as her only God. This passage simply stresses monotheism, as opposed to polytheism; but this passage does not preclude the triune nature of God at all! This poses a question that JWs must answer: “If Jesus is not God, why did the Jews ‘have no scruple about applying to Jesus many Old Testament texts that were originally written in reference to Yahweh’”? (Reasoning, page 232)
A better translation of the Deuteronomy passage might be, “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our Elohim, Yahweh alone.” So the question becomes, “who is Yahweh? Is it the Father alone, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses assume, or is Jesus also Yahweh? Indeed, is the triune God Yahweh?” (Reasoning, page 230) Jesus is called “Mighty God, Everlasting Father” in Isaiah 9:6, and He is referred to as “Lord” (a transliteration of the word Jehovah) throughout the New Testament (see John 13:13; Romans 10:9; Hebrews 13:20; Hebrews 1:8-10). Since God is called Yahweh in the Scriptures, then doesn’t this also mean that Jesus is Yahweh, for He is also called God (John 1:1) while assuming titles that are exclusively used of God?
Additionally, Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58) – a name which the Jews understood to refer to God’s exclusive title “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14). “The phrase ‘I AM’ is not the word Yahweh. However, ‘I AM’ (verse 14) and Yahweh (in verse 15) are both derivatives of the same verb, ‘to be.’ The name ‘I AM WHO I AM’ that God revealed to Moses in verse 14 is intended as a full expression of His eternal nature, and is then shortened to Yahweh in verse 15. The names have the same root meaning and can be considered essentially interchangeable” (Reasoning, page 55). Who else could Jesus have been equating Himself with but God?
Furthermore, if Jesus were not one and the same as Jehovah God, why does God as Yahweh (a variation of Jehovah) say, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10)? The New Testament is quite clear that it was Jesus Christ who was pierced (see Revelation 1:5-7)! Throughout the Scriptures, Yahweh is attributed other qualities that are ascribed to Christ, such as: holy (Lev. 11:45; Acts 4:27; 1 Peter 1:16-19), righteous (Psalm 11:7; 1 John 2:1), and just (Isaiah 45:21; Titus 2:13; Romans 3:24). Why is this the case, if Jesus is not Jehovah? This provides strong evidence that Jesus is, indeed, Jehovah God – lending support to the triune nature of God.
Still, the Trinity is not a plausible idea to the Witnesses, partly because they believe the Holy Spirit, like Jesus, does not belong within the Trinity – He is just a force, not a person. Is this true? The main premise behind this assumption is that the Hebrew word for “Spirit,” ruach, means “breath, air, strength, wind, breeze, spirit, courage, temper, and Spirit (i.e. Holy Spirit)” (Reasoning, page 198). But does this prove that the Holy Spirit is a force, and does it debunk the Christian view of the Trinity? “It has long been recognized that the three primary attributes of personality are mind, emotions, and will. A ‘force’ does not have these attributes. If it can be demonstrated that the Spirit has a mind, emotions, and a will, the Watchtower position that the Spirit is an ‘active force’ crumbles like a house of cards” (Reasoning, page 198).
Using this hypothesis, let’s examine a few Scriptures to see whether the Holy Spirit is a force or a Person. “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God… But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For ‘who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1Corinthians 2:10-12, 15-16). Does this fit the JW view that the Holy Spirit does not have a mind? Actually, this Scripture demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is One with Christ; first it says that the Spirit knows the things of God, and then it says that we have this Spirit resulting in the mind of Christ so that we can know these things, too. Therefore, it is clear from this passage that – contrary to the JWs’ belief – the Holy Spirit does have a mind.
But does He have emotions? Look at Ephesians 4:30: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Does this fit the belief that the Holy Spirit is a force? No; “Grief is an emotion, and emotions cannot be experienced by a force. Grief is something one feels” (Reasoning, page 199).
Lastly, does the Holy Spirit have a will? If so, this would rule in His favor as a Person, rather than just an active force. “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11). In light of this, does the JW’s view of the Holy Spirit as a force seem plausible? The Holy Spirit is definitely a Person as can be seen from other passages of Scripture, as well.
The question now becomes, is the Holy Spirit a part of the Trinity? To answer this question, let’s examine Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” (NASB). The NWT translates this as “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Could this be an attempt to make it look as though the Personhood in the Trinity is actually three separate Beings? Do Christians really believe in three Gods in one? It should be clarified that Christians do not believe in three Gods; we believe in One God, three Persons. Secondly, although other versions (i.e. NKJV, KJV) also insert “of” before each article, this does not take away from the fact that “the word ‘name’ is singular in the Greek text, indicating that there is one God, but three distinct persons within the Godhead – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Reasoning, page 234). Since the word “name” is singular, doesn’t this indicate that the Holy Spirit is a part of the Trinity – being equivalent to God – since He is included in the list?
But for the sake of argument, does this passage really support the Trinity, or are scholars misinterpreting the text? Theologian Robert Reymond points out the importance behind this passage by showing the meaning of Jesus’ words: After pointing out several ways in which this passage could have been stated, Reymond concludes, “What He does say is this: ‘into the name [singular] of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,’ first asserting the unity of the three by combining them all within the bounds of the single Name, and then throwing into emphasis the distinctness of each by introducing them in turn with the repeated article” (Reasoning, page 234). If the Holy Spirit were not part of the Trinity, why is this passage so emphatic that He, the Father and the Son, are all one?
By now, it should be obvious that the Jesus of the Watchtower is not the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus is not an angel; He is Jehovah God. As such, He did not have a spiritual resurrection, but a bodily resurrection. He receives worship, and He does not despise anyone who comes to Him (see John 6:37). Jesus Christ is one and the same as God the Father and the Person of the Holy Spirit, coinciding with the Scripture’s clear teaching on the Trinity. 1 John 5:7 states, “For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.” It is not contradictory to God’s nature to be triune; the same God who created the world (Genesis 1; compare John 1:1) is the same God who calmed the seas (Mark 4:38-41) and fell on Pentecost (Acts 2). God the Father made a way for us to be reconciled to Him through His Son (Romans 5:10). God sent a part of Himself to be the atonement for our sins; if Jesus were on any less of a status, such a plan of redemption would not have worked. After Jesus paid the price for our sins and bodily rose again, He provided us with the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we could have a Helper, an intercessor (John 16:7, Romans 8:26-27) – a means of maintaining our relationship with God through communication with Him. This would not be feasible if the Holy Spirit were not part of the Personhood of the Trinity. But the Lord Jesus also provided us with the most important thing of all: eternal life. “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, [even] in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)